President Biden on Friday said he will deploy U.S. troops to Eastern Europe and NATO countries “in the near term,” as tensions escalate with Russia over Ukraine.
“I’ll be moving troops to Eastern Europe and NATO countries in the near term. Not too many,” Mr. Biden told reporters as he returned from a trip to Pittsburgh.
The U.S. and its European allies have been in talks about deploying more troops to Eastern Europe as a show of support against Moscow’s aggression toward Ukraine.
The Pentagon has put roughly 8,500 U.S. troops on standby for possible deployment to Europe.
If Mr. Biden does deploy forces to Eastern Europe, it would mark a shift in strategy for his administration. The president has previously expressed concerns about sending troops to Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin could use the move to accuse U.S. and NATO of aggression towards Russia.
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Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said this week that the 8,500 troops are on alert in case American forces are quickly needed to support NATO. Both the U.S. and NATO have tens of thousands of troops available in Europe if Russia invades Ukraine.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters Friday that no American troops would be deployed in Ukraine, which Mr. Biden said repeatedly.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Friday reiterated that troops deployed to the region would not be part of an offensive against Russia.
“We haven’t deployed anybody. We haven’t moved anybody yet. We’re just increasing our readiness levels,” Gen. Milley said. “We certainly have no intent whatsoever that I’m aware of putting offensive forces to attack Russia and I don’t think that’s NATO‘s intent at all.”
Mr. Biden’s comments signal that he believes a Russian invasion of Ukraine is imminent, but that thinking has been challenged by some in his administration.
“We don’t believe that President Putin has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine,” Mr. Austin said. “He clearly now has that capability.”
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also has publicly downplayed the prospect of a Russian attack. He warned that such talk decreases his country’s stability and harms its economy.
“We don’t have a Titanic here,” Mr. Zelenskyy told reporters Friday.
“I don’t consider the situation now more tense than before. There is a feeling abroad that there is war here. That’s not the case,” he said. “I am not saying an escalation is not possible … [but] we don’t need this panic.”