Updated Jan 25, 2022 - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.

The latest: President Biden told reporters after a roughly 80-minute video call with several European leaders on Monday evening that there was "total unanimity" among the allies, adding: "We'll talk about it later."

  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's office expanded on this in a statement on Tuesday saying the leaders agreed to "enact swift retributive responses including an unprecedented package of sanctions" should a "further Russian incursion into Ukraine happen."

Zoom in: Pentagon press secretary John Kirby Monday this was "really about reassuring the eastern flank of NATO. It's also about "proving how seriously the United States takes our commitment to NATO and to the Article Five commitment inside NATO," he added, referring to the alliance's commitment to collective defense.

  • Kirby stressed that no mission had been assigned, but the troops on high alert included "additional brigade combat teams, logistics personnel, medical support, aviation support, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance."
  • He also reiterated President Biden's position that U.S. troops would not be sent to Ukraine to fight a war against Russia, but the West was determined to deter Moscow from launching an invasion through the threat of sanctions and military aid.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined via video link a Russia-Ukraine-focused meeting on Monday with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and other EU member state counterparts who had gathered in Brussels.

  • "If Russia chooses conflict, we will impose massive consequences and severe costs," Blinken tweeted after the meeting.

The big picture: The NATO Response Force (NRF) comprises about 40,000 multinational troops that can be deployed on short notice.

  • Over the past several weeks, NATO countries including the United Kingdom, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands have sent additional ships and fighter aircraft to eastern Europe in an effort to deter Russia.
  • Several NATO members, including the U.K., the U.S. and the Baltic states, have sent weaponry and military trainers to Ukraine as Russia continues to amass more than 120,000 troops on all sides of its border.

Go deeper: State Department orders evacuation of U.S. diplomats' families from Ukraine

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Biden, Blinken the U.K. prime minister's office and details of the president and secretary of state's meetings.

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