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Pentagon orders 8,500 troops on heightened alert as tensions rise with Russia

US troops on higher alert

The Pentagon ordered 8,500 troops on higher alert Monday to potentially deploy to Europe as part of a NATO response force amid growing concern that Russia could soon make a military move on Ukraine.

U.S. President Joe Biden consulted with key European leaders, underscoring U.S. solidarity with allies there.

Putting the U.S.-based troops on heightened alert for Europe suggested diminishing hope that Russian President Vladimir Putin will back away from what Biden himself has said looks like a threat to invade neighbouring Ukraine.

At stake, beyond the future of Ukraine, is the credibility of a NATO alliance that is central to U.S. defense strategy but that Putin views as a Cold War relic and a threat to Russian security.

For Biden, the crisis represents a major test of his ability to forge a united allied stance against Putin.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said about 8,500 U.S.-based troops are being put on alert for possible deployment – not to Ukraine but to NATO territory in Eastern Europe as part of an alliance force meant to signal a unified commitment to deter any wider Putin aggression.

Russia denies it is planning an invasion.

It says Western accusations are merely a cover for NATO's own planned provocations. Recent days have seen high-stakes diplomacy that has failed to reach any breakthrough, and key players in the drama are making moves that suggest fear of imminent war. Biden has sought to strike a balance between actions meant to deter Putin and those that might provide the Russian leader with an opening to use the huge force he has assembled at Ukraine's border.

The Pentagon's move, which was done at Biden's direction and on Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's recommendation, is being made in tandem with actions by other NATO member governments to bolster a defensive presence in Eastern European nations. Denmark, for example, is sending a frigate and F-16 warplanes to Lithuania; Spain is sending four fighter jets to Bulgaria and three ships to the Black Sea to join NATO naval forces, and France stands ready to send troops to Romania.

NATO has not made a decision to activate the response force, which consists of about 40,000 troops from multiple nations. That force was enhanced in 2014 – the year Russia seized Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula and intervened in support of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine – by creating a "spearhead force'' of about 20,000 troops on extra-high alert within the larger response force.



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