US president Joe Biden has ordered the deployment of an additional 2,000 troops to bolster Nato’s defences in Europe, strengthening the alliance’s response to a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.
John Kirby, the Pentagon’s spokesperson, announced the move during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday. In addition to sending about 2,000 troops from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Poland and Germany, the US said it would redeploy roughly 1,000 troops from Germany to Romania.
“President Biden has been clear that the United States will respond to the growing threat to Europe’s security and stability. Our commitment to Nato Article 5 and collective defence remains ironclad,” Kirby said, referring to the alliance’s mutual assistance principle.
“These are not permanent moves,” he said, adding that they were “designed to respond to the current security environment. Moreover, these forces are not going to fight in Ukraine.”
As the Russian military build-up along Ukraine’s border intensified in recent weeks, Biden put 8,500 troops on standby for deployment to the eastern flank of Nato, and had been discussing details of a possible move with US allies.
Russian deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko described the extra US troops as “destructive steps that are unjustified by anyone”. “They increase military tension and narrow the room for political decisions,” he told Interfax on Wednesday.
Even as diplomatic avenues have remained open, US officials have warned that Russia has continued to increase its own military preparations, including additional movement of troops along Ukraine’s border in Belarus and naval activity in the Mediterranean.
“There may soon be additional posture decisions to announce, including movements that are part of ongoing military exercises. This is not the sum total of the deterrence actions we will take,” Kirby said.
The deployment of US troops — in addition to the 8,500 on standby — comes at a delicate point in negotiations led by Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, and Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, to defuse the situation.
The US has also offered to provide assurances to Russia over its Europe-based missile defence system, and promised to refrain from deploying troops to Ukraine itself.
These proposals, outlined in a written document sent by the US to the Kremlin last week, include a “transparency mechanism” to convince Russia that its Aegis Ashore missile defence systems, based in Romania and Poland, are not equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles.
President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly expressed concerns that the Aegis launchers could be used to attack Russia or shoot down its intercontinental ballistic missiles rather than those fired by Iran or other rogue states, as Washington maintains.
The US said it is prepared to discuss transparency on its Aegis batteries if Poland and Romania agree and “as long as Russian offers reciprocal transparency measures on two ground-launched missile bases of our own choosing in Russia”.
It added that it is willing to discuss transparency measures and “reciprocal commitments” by the US and Russia to “refrain from deploying offensive ground-launched missile systems and permanent forces with a combat mission” on Ukrainian territory.
Washington’s proposals were formulated as a response to Russian demands, issued in December, about its security concerns, including further Nato enlargement.
The US document and an accompanying paper from Nato were first published by Spanish newspaper El País but confirmed by Washington.
“We did not make this document public, but now that it is, it confirms to the entire world what we have always been saying,” said Kirby. “There is no daylight between our public statements and our private discussions.”
The ideas were first outlined in meetings last month between US, Nato and Russian officials. The Biden administration said it was ready to engage with Russia on arms control, troop posture and transparency measures as long as Putin de-escalated tensions with Ukraine.
Moscow has deployed more than 100,000 troops and heavy weaponry along Ukraine’s borders in what US and UK officials say could be an imminent invasion.
The US and Nato have rejected Russia’s demands for a ban on further enlargement and for a withdrawal of Nato forces from the alliance’s former communist bloc members. Nato says the contingents sent to the Baltic states and Poland following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 are small and temporary and so in keeping with its commitments to Moscow.
Ukraine’s government said it would welcome a reciprocal commitment by the US and Russia to refrain from stationing missiles or troops in Ukraine.
“I would like to note that, while the US has neither missiles in Ukraine nor their combat units in Ukraine, Russia has both,” said Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian foreign minister. “And if this proposal is accepted on a reciprocal basis, that will imply that Russia has to withdraw. So no, we have no objections against the idea of Russia withdrawing its forces, its personnel and weapons from the territory of Ukraine.”
Additional reporting by Guy Chazan in Berlin and Roman Olearchyk in Kyiv