John Kirby, press secretary for the Department of Defense, said Jan. 30 that Russia was poised to invade neighboring Ukraine “at any time.”
“Putin has a lot of options available to him if he wants to further invade Ukraine, and he can execute some of those options imminently,” Kirby said on Fox News Sunday.
His statement echoes sentiments expressed by various officials, including U.S. President Joe Biden, that a conflict between Russia and Ukraine is imminent.
Tensions along the Russia-Ukraine border have risen as the Kremlin has deployed more than 100,000 troops near the former Soviet territory for large-scale military exercises. Russia previously annexed the Crimean peninsula and part of eastern Ukraine in 2014.
“I’ll be moving U.S. troops to Eastern Europe in the NATO countries in the near term. Not a lot,” Biden replied to reporters who questioned him about Ukraine on Friday, Jan. 28.
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Earlier, around 8,500 U.S. troops were put on high alert, making them ready for immediate deployment to Eastern Europe should the need arise. Troops on standby include those involved in combat, aviation support, logistical support, and medical support.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had recently commented that though Washington is engaged in diffusing the Russia-Ukraine tensions through diplomacy, the U.S. is also focused on “building up defense, building up deterrence.” If Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to be aggressive against Ukraine, Washington will also continue to provide NATO with reinforcement in a “significant way,” he added.
General Mark Milley, the Chairman of U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, warns that a Ukrainian invasion by Russia will create “significant” casualties. Milley called on Putin to choose the diplomatic path to resolve its conflicts. Speaking about Ukraine’s geography, the general pointed out that when the “high water table” freezes, an ideal condition for wheeled vehicle maneuvers will be created.
“Given the type of forces that are arrayed (by Russia) … if that was unleashed on Ukraine, it would be significant, very significant, and it would result in a significant amount of casualties… You can imagine what that might look like in dense urban areas, along roads, and so on and so forth. It would be horrific. It would be terrible. And it’s not necessary. And we think a diplomatic outcome is the way to go here,” Milley said on Jan. 28.
Apart from the United States, European nations are also sending in troops to support Ukraine. France is reportedly planning to station hundreds of troops in Romania. Britain, which already has 1,150 troops in Eastern European nations, is said to be considering doubling its presence in the region. According to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office, they might also send “defensive weapons” to Estonia.
“This package would send a clear message to the Kremlin – we will not tolerate their destabilizing activity, and we will always stand with our NATO allies in the face of Russian hostility,” the British PM’s office stated.
Calls for calm
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is attempting to calm down a “feeling abroad” that war with Russia has already begun. Speaking at a news conference, Zelenskyy stressed that Ukraine does not “need this panic.” He rejected the notion that the situation now is “more tense than before.” The feeling that war is right around the corner is untrue, he insisted. The president also called on Putin to prove his claim that Moscow has no intention of invading Ukraine.
According to Al Jazeera reporter Kimberly Halkett, Zelenskyy wanted to “reassert himself” in a conversation that increasingly was taking a life of its own. “It appears that he is trying to set the record straight… What we are hearing from the US and President Joe Biden is that the threat is imminent, but the take from the president of Ukraine is that it may not be as imminent as Washington is characterizing,” Halkett said.