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US puts 8,500 troops on alert as Biden ‘refining plans for all scenarios’

The Independent
The Independent
 2022-01-24

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The Pentagon has announced that it placed 8,500 troops on “heightened preparedness” as the White House said it is refining any plans to find a solution to Russia escalating tensions with Ukraine .

Pentagon spokesperson, John Kirby , said the Defense Department continues to support diplomatic efforts to deescalate the situation, amid fears of a Russian invasion of its neighbour. About 125,000 Russian troops have been posted on the border of Ukraine.

“As the president has said, even as we continue to prioritise diplomacy and dialogue, we must also increase readiness,” Mr Kirby said. As such, Mr Kirby said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin placed a range of units in the United States on a heightened preparedness to deploy, which would increase its readiness if Nato should activate its response force.

“All told, the number of forces that the secretary has placed on heightened alert comes up to about 8,500 personnel,” he said. “Specifically, this will ensure that the United States and our commitment to the NRF is consistent for their readiness for rapid deployment, again if activated.”

Mr Kirby said that this only meant the forces were placed on higher alert and nothing else.

“No decisions have been made to deploy any forces from the United States at this time,” he said, adding that some of these forces were already on a heightened readiness posture. “That’s not the case for every unit that’s being notified that they’re on heightened alert.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that the United States had never formally ruled out providing additional support or assistance to Ukraine.

“We have been consulting with allies and deployments and refining plans for all scenarios,” she said. “We have always said we would reinforce our allies on the eastern flank and those conversations and discussions have certainly been a part of what our national security officials have been discussing with their counterparts now for several weeks.”

President Joe Biden will also hold a secure video call with European leaders, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, President Andrzej Duda of Poland and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, per the White House.

Many criticised Mr Biden when he said at a news conference: “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do,” when describing what would happen if Russian Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. He later clarified that any assembled Russian units crossing into Ukraine’s border would be considered an invasion.

“But there is no doubt – let there be no doubt at all, that if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price,” he said.

Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov in hopes of de-escalating tensions.

The United States’ actions come as Nato sends additional ships and fighter jets to eastern Europe as Russia has amassed 120,00 0troops to Ukraine’s border. Mr Putin has demanded that Ukraine never be allowed to join Nato.

At the same time, the State Department released a travel advisory late Sunday evening, authorising the voluntary departure of the voluntary departure of U.S. direct hire employees, as well as the mandatory departure of eligible family members of diplomats at the US embassy in Kiev.

The European Union’s top diplomat said that the union would keep its diplomats in Ukraine for the time being, saying there was no need to “dramatise” the situation as the United States evacuates the families of its diplomats from its embassy.

Josep Borrell , the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, was asked about whether the European would follow the United States’ suit and evacuate the family members of diplomats.

Mr Borrell responded that Mr Blinken would explain the need for this evacuation.

“But Secretary Blinken will inform us and I do not think we have to dramatise,” Mr Borrell said. “As far as the negotiations are going on – and they are going on – I do not think that we have to leave Ukraine. But maybe Secretary Blinken has more information that he will share with us.”

When asked if there was a plan to evacuate European Union personnel, Mr Borrell said there was no decision at the moment.

“Unless Secretary Blinken gives us information that justifies a move, it is not.”

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