US troops to deploy to Eastern Europe amid Ukraine crisis
By Natasha Bertrand, Barbara Starr and Jeremy Herb, CNN
(CNN) -- President Joe Biden has formally approved the deployment of 3,000 US troops to Poland, Germany and Romania, the Pentagon announced Wednesday, in a move to bolster NATO countries in Eastern Europe with tens of thousands of Russian troops amassed along Ukraine's border.
The deployments to Eastern Europe, which were first reported by CNN, are a show of support to NATO allies feeling threatened by Russia's military moves near Ukraine and the threat of an invasion, US officials said.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the deployments included roughly 2,000 troops that would deploy from the United States to Poland and Germany. In addition, approximately 1,000 troops currently based in Germany were moving to Romania.
Kirby said the moves, which would happen in the coming days, were not permanent and emphasized, "These forces are not going to fight in Ukraine."
The move is the most significant sign to date that the US is preparing for the prospect of Russian President Vladimir Putin launching an invasion of Ukraine, as Russia has shown no signs of de-escalating after several rounds of diplomatic talks with the US and NATO.
Biden signed off on the additional troops following a meeting on Tuesday morning at the White House with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, an official said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN's Matthew Chance in an exclusive statement later Wednesday that the "US de facto is continuing to pump up tension in Europe." Peskov said the deployments are "the best proof that we, as Russia, have an obvious reason to be worried."
Biden told CNN's Kaitlan Collins Wednesday that the decision was "totally consistent" with what the US has told Russia throughout discussions.
"It's totally consistent with what I told Putin in the beginning," Biden said in a brief exchange in the White House East Room. "As long as he's acting aggressively, we're going to make sure we reassure our NATO allies and Eastern Europe we're there and Article V is a sacred obligation."
At the same time the US was preparing to send troops to Europe, the White House said Wednesday it was no longer describing a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine as "imminent," suggesting the word sent an unintended message.
"I used that once. I think others have used that once. And then we stopped using it because I think it sent a message that we weren't intending to send, which was that we knew President Putin had made a decision," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
Last week, Psaki said an invasion by Russian troops of Ukraine continued to be "imminent," a description that drew anger in Kyiv. Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, disagreed, arguing the descriptions could cause panic and economic turmoil.
A Ukrainian official told CNN that Kyiv welcomed the reinforcement of NATO's eastern flank, but "hopes it will be accompanied with continued supplies of defensive weapons to Ukraine, including sophisticated air defenses."
More US troops could be deployed
Kirby stressed these additional troop movements don't mean the US believes Putin has decided to invade Ukraine or any other country, but "if he does invade Ukraine, obviously there's going to be consequences for that."
"We want to make sure that he knows any move on NATO is going to be resisted, and it's going to trigger Article Five, and we're going to be committed to the defense of our allies," Kirby said.
Last week, the US placed 8,500 troops in the US on heightened alert in case a NATO Response Force is called up and US forces are needed quickly. But the US and NATO have tens of thousands of other troops already in Europe to draw on for any additional deployments to Eastern European allies.
Kirby said that the troops being deployed were separate from the 8,500 US troops on heightened alert. The Pentagon is "not ruling out the possibility that there will be more" US troop movements in the coming days, Kirby said.
The US deployment to Poland consists of about 1,700 troops from an 82nd Airborne Division infantry brigade combat team based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. There are about 300 service members from the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg deploying to Germany. And the US is moving a stryker squadron of about 1,000 troops from Germany to Romania, Kirby said.
The troops will operate on a bilateral basis with their host countries, since NATO has not yet activated the multinational response force.
CNN reported last week that the US and a handful of allies had been in discussions to deploy thousands more troops to Eastern European NATO countries before any potential Russian invasion of Ukraine as a show of support in the face of Moscow's ongoing aggression.
A Latvian diplomat told CNN Wednesday that Latvia, which borders Russia and Belarus, "is ready and willing to host more troops from the US -- it's been a long standing topic of discussion with the Pentagon and those discussions are still ongoing."
Allies welcome announcement
The announcement of US troop deployments to Poland was welcome news to Polish officials, according to a senior Polish diplomat. Polish officials had been discussing the possibility of sending more US troops to the country with their American counterparts in recent days, the diplomat said.
Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau visits Washington beginning Thursday, and he will meet with White House officials and lawmakers, the Polish diplomat said. On Friday, Rau will meet Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department.
Biden said last Friday that he would be moving the forces "in the near term," as Russia has continued to build up forces near Ukraine, sparking fears of a renewed invasion even as diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions have continued.
New satellite images showed a further expansion of Russia's military presence at multiple locations in Belarus, Crimea and western Russia.
On Wednesday, the Spanish newspaper El Pais published confidential written responses that the United States and NATO sent last week to Russia, which rejected Moscow's demand to never admit Ukraine into NATO. El Pais published five pages of what it said was a US government document and four pages of what it said was a NATO document, and said both were sent to Russia on January 26.
Kirby confirmed Wednesday the US written response to Russia was authentic, saying that its publication "confirms to the entire world what we have always been saying."
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the US decision to deploy additional forces to Europe.
"This is a powerful signal of U.S. commitment, and comes on top of other recent U.S. contributions to our shared security -- including 8,500 troops at high readiness for the NATO Response Force, and the USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group under NATO command in the Mediterranean," Stoltenberg said in a statement.
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