8,500 troops placed on heightened alert for European deployment
The Defense Department placed 8,500 U.S.-based troops on heightened alert for deployment to Europe in response to the escalating crisis with Russia over Ukraine. Could some of those troops come from Fort Bragg? The public information officer at the Army post said Bragg is not commenting on any troop deployment. In any case, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed the troops on "heightened alert" for rapid deployment to assist NATO if needed. RELATED: Why does Russia want Ukraine? According to CNN, the Biden administration was in the final stages of identifying specific military units it wants to send to eastern Europe. The move comes amid rising tensions about Russia's military buildup on its border with Ukraine that were not eased during talks Friday between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva. At stake, beyond the future of Ukraine, is the credibility of a NATO alliance that is central to U.S. defense strategy but that Putin views as a Cold War relic and a threat to Russian security. For Biden, the crisis represents a major test of his ability to forge a united allied stance against Putin. Russia denies it is planning an invasion. It says Western accusations are merely a cover for NATO's own planned provocations. Recent days have seen high-stakes diplomacy that has failed to reach any breakthrough, and key players in the drama are making moves that suggest fear of imminent war. Biden has sought to strike a balance between actions meant to deter Putin and those that might provide the Russian leader with an opening to use the huge force he has assembled at Ukraine's border. Biden held an 80-minute video call with several European leaders on the Russian military buildup and potential responses to an invasion. "I had a very, very, very good meeting -- total unanimity with all the European leaders," Biden told reporters at the White House. "We'll talk about it later." The White House said the leaders emphasized their desire for a diplomatic solution to the crisis but also discussed efforts to deter further Russian aggression, "including preparations to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia for such actions as well as to reinforce security on NATO's eastern flank." A day earlier, the State Department had ordered the families of all American personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv to leave the country, and it said that nonessential embassy staff could leave at U.S. government expense. Ukraine's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Oleg Nikolenko, said that U.S. decision was "a premature step" and a sign of "excessive caution." He said Russia was sowing panic among Ukrainians and foreigners in order to destabilize Ukraine. Britain said it, too, was withdrawing some diplomats and dependents from its Kyiv Embassy. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said an invasion was not inevitable but "the intelligence is pretty gloomy." Ordering even a modest number of American troops to be ready for potential deployment to Europe is meant to demonstrate U.S. resolve to support its NATO allies, particularly those in Eastern Europe who feel threatened by Russia and worry that Putin could put them in his crosshairs. "What this is about is reassurance to our NATO allies," Kirby told a Pentagon news conference, adding that no troops are intended for deployment to Ukraine, which is not a member of the alliance but has been assured by Washington of continued U.S. political support and arms supplies. The Associate Press contributed to this report.