The Pentagon is putting as many as 8,500 troops on alert for possibly deployment to Europe as Russia-Ukraine border tensions are growing more dangerous by the day.
As many as 8,500 US troops have been put on heightened alert for a possible deployment to Eastern Europe as Russian troops mass on Ukraine's border, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued the prepare to deploy orders at the direction of President Joe Biden, the latest step the US has taken to prepare for a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine that officials have warned could be imminent.
Kirby said that the "bulk of" US troops placed on heightened alert were intended to bolster NATO's quick response force, but added they would be "postured to be ready for any other contingencies as well."
As of Monday afternoon, no final decision to deploy the troops had been made, Kirby emphasized.
"The United States has taken steps to heighten the readiness of its forces at home and abroad, so they are prepared to respond to a range of contingencies, including support to the NATO response force if it is activated," Kirby said. He noted the NATO Response Force "comprises around 40,000 multinational troops."
Earlier on Monday CNN reported the Biden administration was in in the final stages of identifying specific military units it wants to send to Eastern Europe, according to multiple US and defense officials.
Biden discussed options for bolstering US troop levels in the Baltics and Eastern Europe with his top military officials during a briefing at Camp David on Saturday, according to a senior official.
The goal of sending military reinforcements to Eastern Europe would be to provide deterrence and to reassure allies, and there's been no suggestion US combat troops would deploy to Ukraine or take part in any combat roles. Kirby noted the US does have military advisers in Ukraine.
Kirby would not say where the US troops might deploy, but said the US has "made it clear to the Eastern flank allies that we're prepared to bolster their capabilities if they need it."
"In the event of NATO's activation of the NRF or a deteriorating security environment, the United States would be in a position to rapidly deploy additional brigade combat teams, logistics, medical, aviation, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, transportation and additional capabilities into Europe," Kirby said.
"We're bolstering NATO rapid reaction forces" is a polite way of saying that "We're not sending troops to Ukraine, but..."
Putin surely will see this as a direct provocation, or will pretend it is one, and act accordingly I suspect. Still, for all the drumbeats of war definitely echoing across Europe right now, Putin still hasn't actually invaded Ukraine yet.
He would have by now if that was the sole point, so as I've said earlier this week, he wants something, and Biden needs to figure out what it is.
Former US intelligence officer and Russia expert Fiona Hill has a pretty good idea of what Putin actually does want, and it's "the whole bowl of borscht".
As I have seen over two decades of observing Mr. Putin, and analyzing his moves, his actions are purposeful and his choice of this moment to throw down the gauntlet in Ukraine and Europe is very intentional. He has a personal obsession with history and anniversaries. December 2021 marked the 30th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when Russia lost its dominant position in Europe. Mr. Putin wants to give the United States a taste of the same bitter medicine Russia had to swallow in the 1990s. He believes that the United States is currently in the same predicament as Russia was after the Soviet collapse: grievously weakened at home and in retreat abroad. He also thinks NATO is nothing more than an extension of the United States. Russian officials and commentators routinely deny any agency or independent strategic thought to other NATO members. So, when it comes to the alliance, all of Moscow’s moves are directed against Washington.
In the 1990s, the United States and NATO forced Russia to withdraw the remnants of the Soviet military from their bases in Eastern Europe, Germany and the Baltic States. Mr. Putin wants the United States to suffer in a similar way. From Russia’s perspective, America’s domestic travails after four years of Donald Trump’s disastrous presidency, as well as the rifts he created with U.S. allies and then America’s precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan, signal weakness. If Russia presses hard enough, Mr. Putin hopes he can strike a new security deal with NATO and Europe to avoid an open-ended conflict, and then it will be America’s turn to leave, taking its troops and missiles with it.
Ukraine is both Russia’s target and a source of leverage against the United States. Over the last several months Mr. Putin has bogged the Biden administration down in endless tactical games that put the United States on the defensive. Russia moves forces to Ukraine’s borders, launches war games and ramps up the visceral commentary. In recent official documents, it demanded ironclad guarantees that Ukraine (and other former republics of the U.S.S.R.) will never become a member of NATO, that NATO pull back from positions taken after 1997, and also that America withdraw its own forces and weapons, including its nuclear missiles. Russian representatives assert that Moscow doesn’t “need peace at any cost” in Europe. Some Russian politicians even suggest the possibility of a pre-emptive strike against NATO targets to make sure that we know they are serious, and that we should meet Moscow’s demands.
For weeks, American officials have huddled to make sense of the official documents with Russia’s demands and the contradictory commentary, pondered how to deter Mr. Putin in Ukraine and scrambled to talk on his timeline.
All the while, Mr. Putin and his proxies have ratcheted up their statements. Kremlin officials have not just challenged the legitimacy of America’s position in Europe, they have raised questions about America’s bases in Japan and its role in the Asia-Pacific region. They have also intimated that they may ship hypersonic missiles to America’s back door in Cuba and Venezuela to revive what the Russians call the Caribbean Crisis of the 1960s.
Mr. Putin is a master of coercive inducement. He manufactures a crisis in such a way that he can win no matter what anyone else does. Threats and promises are essentially one and the same. Mr. Putin can invade Ukraine yet again, or he can leave things where they are and just consolidate the territory Russia effectively controls in Crimea and Donbas. He can stir up trouble in Japan and send hypersonic missiles to Cuba and Venezuela, or not, if things go his way in Europe.
Mr. Putin plays a longer, strategic game and knows how to prevail in the tactical scrum. He has the United States right where he wants it. His posturing and threats have set the agenda in European security debates, and have drawn our full attention. Unlike President Biden, Mr. Putin doesn’t have to worry about midterm elections or pushback from his own party or the opposition. Mr. Putin has no concerns about bad press or poor poll ratings. He isn’t part of a political party and he has crushed the Russian opposition. The Kremlin has largely silenced the local, independent press. Mr. Putin is up for re-election in 2024, but his only viable opponent, Aleksei Navalny, is locked in a penal colony outside of Moscow.
So Mr. Putin can act as he chooses, when he chooses. Barring ill health, the United States will have to contend with him for years to come. Right now, all signs indicate that Mr. Putin will lock the United States into an endless tactical game, take more chunks out of Ukraine and exploit all the frictions and fractures in NATO and the European Union. Getting out of the current crisis requires acting, not reacting. The United States needs to shape the diplomatic response and engage Russia on the West’s terms, not just Moscow’s.
Putin wants the old Soviet Empire back. He just needs NATO neutralized. He figures he can outlast Biden and whomever comes after.
I sure hope he's wrong.