The Biden Administration ordered an additional 3,000 soldiers to central Europe, following intelligence warnings that the Russian military could invade Ukraine at any time.
The deployment is part of a realignment of American firepower on the European continent amid looming fears of widespread war, according to a senior Defense Department official. Over the last two weeks, President Joe Biden has moved troops, naval ships and warplanes into eastern Europe in reaction to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military escalation.
In a show of force not seen since the Cold War, Russia has positioned more than 100,000 troops in several countries along Ukraine’s borders. The Biden Administration had initially pursued diplomacy in hopes of resolving the deteriorating situation. But the lack of progress, and the continued build-up of Russian forces, has prompted the U.S. to draw up more aggressive strategies to deter Putin.
The decision to deploy 3,000 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division into Poland is the latest move by the White House to demonstrate solidarity with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies concerned over Russia’s massing combat power. On Feb. 2, Biden ordered an Army Stryker squadron consisting of 1,000 troops to move from Germany into Romania. The same day he ordered 2,000 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division and 300 troops from 18th Airborne Corps to Poland. Romania and Poland are NATO members that border Ukraine to the south and west, respectively, and they are bracing for refugee flows and potential frontier security issues should Moscow invade from the north and east.
The U.S. forces are not being sent to Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, nor will they take part in any combat roles in the event of a Russian invasion of the country, the U.S. has said. Rather the U.S. forces will serve as reinforcements to reassure U.S. allies and deter further aggression from Moscow, Washington says.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Friday the U.S. believes a Russian military incursion into Ukraine could be imminent, and said any campaign would begin with an aerial bombardment followed by a ground invasion that would imperil escape routes. “Any Americans in Ukraine should leave as soon as possible, and in any event, in the next 24 to 48 hours,” he said. “If you stay, you are assuming risk, with no guarantee that there will be any other opportunity to leave and no prospect of a U.S. military evacuation in the event of a Russian invasion.”
Sullivan said the U.S. was not certain whether Putin had made a decision to invade, but that it could happen at a moment’s notice, even during the Beijing Olympics, which ends Feb. 20. The Ukrainian government, in contrast, has urged calm, saying there is no reason to panic in the face of U.S. intelligence warnings that an invasion is impending. Putin has maintained all along that he has no plans to move on Ukraine, but he has voiced concerns over NATO’s military expansion along its borders in recent decades.
Russia this week began naval drills in the Black Sea and joint military exercises in neighboring Belarus. The forces represent a fraction of the build-up of Russian troops, tanks and artillery that now surround Ukraine. The White House said Biden had a rare multilateral call Friday with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Canada, NATO, the European Union, Poland and Romania.
The White House and European allies have scrambled for months to respond since Russia began moving forces along the border. Putin has tried to use the deployment as leverage against the U.S. to reduce troops, weapons and influence in central and eastern Europe. The U.S. and Russia have talked on several occasions in an attempt to resolve the crisis diplomatically but have yet to narrow their differences. In recent days, Putin has insisted “the principal Russian concerns turned out to be ignored” by the U.S. and NATO nations.
The White House has warned Putin that the U.S. and allies will enact a sweeping package of sanctions designed to cripple Russia’s economy rather than take military action against it if it invades Ukraine. There are about 200 U.S. troops currently in Ukraine, where members of the Florida National Guard have been training forces in the western part of the country far from the areas controlled by pro-Russia separatists in the east. The U.S. now has more than 80,000 troops on the continent.
Read More: The Untold Story of the Ukraine Crisis
The Pentagon has alerted more than 8,500 U.S. service members for possible deployment to bolster NATO allies’ defenses, but not for a fighting role. After the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden has made clear that he has no plans to send combat troops into Ukraine, though he’s sent more than $600 million of security assistance to its government over the past year.
Unlike in Afghanistan, there are no plans for a U.S. military-led effort to evacuate U.S. citizens from Ukraine if Russia invades, Sullivan said, which is why Americans should leave straightaway. “We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Sullivan said. “But the risk is now high enough, and the threat is now immediate enough, that this is what prudence demands.”
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