The Pentagon has announced that it has put 8,500 U.S. military troops in a state of “heightened readiness to deploy” at the command of President Joe Biden to provide support to its eastern allies of NATO if tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalate. Russia has reportedly deployed around 127,000 troops near the Ukrainian border.
In a Jan. 24 press briefing, John Kirby, press secretary of the Department of Defense, stated that no decision with regard to the deployment of troops has been made. The 8,500 troops are only on stand-by, to be deployed immediately should the need arise.
They are expected to support the NATO RAPID Response Force (NRF), which the organization terms is a “highly ready and technologically advanced multinational force” that is composed of air, land, and maritime Special Operations Forces (SOF) components. NRF can be deployed quickly “wherever needed.”
The U.S. troops on stand-by include brigade combat teams, aviation support, medical support, logistics personnel, and those involved in surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence missions. Kirby pointed out that the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, also wants an unspecified number of troops to be ready for other unforeseen contingencies.
“We remain committed to the alliance and we absolutely remain committed to bolstering the capabilities of our — of our — of NATO’s eastern flank to the degree that they desire that extra support… I don’t think anybody wants to see another war on the European continent. And there’s no reason why that has to occur. This could be solved very easily by the Russian’s de-escalating. By — by moving some of these forces away, which they haven’t done,” Kirby said in the press briefing.
Meanwhile, the U.S is ordering its diplomats and families to leave Ukraine. Australia and the UK are also following Washington in this regard and have asked their diplomats to leave Kiev. However, Ukraine and the EU have criticized such actions, arguing that such withdrawal of embassy personnel is creating panic among people.
In an interview with Euractiv, one EU diplomat called the diplomatic withdrawal of foreign nations “ill-timed” and that the decisions to evacuate are sending the “wrong signal” to Ukrainians. EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, called the diplomat exit “premature” and sought to calm down any fears that people may have about safety in Ukraine.
“We know very well what the degree of threats are and the way in which we must react, and no doubt we must avoid alarmist reactions… You have to stay calm doing what you have to do, and avoid a nervous breakdown,” Borrell stated. Diplomats of EU nations continue to remain in Ukraine. Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the president of Ukraine, thanked EU leaders for keeping diplomats in the country.
Within Ukraine, some are worried while others are preparing for war. A recent survey conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) found that 48.1 percent of Ukrainians think the Russian buildup of troops near the country’s border points to the possibility of an invasion come spring or winter. One-third of Ukrainians are committed to taking up arms if a Russian invasion does take place.
In an interview with BBC, Andrei Volkov, an IT consultant in Kiev, called the situation in his country “dangerous” and admitted that he was making “contingency plans” in case things turn ugly. “The situation is extremely tense, I think something might happen… Going to western Ukraine I suppose, going somewhere where it’s going to be safe,” he said.
“Of course I am worried. I am a peaceful woman, I don’t want to have a war started. But in any case, in case it’s started, I should be ready to defend the country,” a 50-year-old female doctor who is part of a local defense force made up of volunteers told the media outlet.