8500 US Troops On Alert As Western Leaders Discuss Russian Military Build-up Near Ukraine

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The United States has set around 8,500 combat-ready soldiers on alert to deploy at short notice as the tense situation along the Russia-Ukraine border evolves.

"If the NATO force is activated, (Defense Secretary Lloyd) Austin's order would allow the United States to rapidly deploy additional brigade combat teams, along with units specializing in logistics, medical, aviation, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, transportation and more", Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said during a news conference Monday.

"As [President Joe Biden] has made clear, the United States will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us, our allies or partners," Kirby told reporters.

The 8,500 troops are based in the United States and would be part of the NATO Response Force, if that group is activated. The American forces would be in addition to the significant combat-capable U.S. forces already based in Europe "to deter aggression and enhance the alliance's ability to defend allies and defeat aggression if necessary," Kirby said.

NATO has not yet activated its 40,000-strong multinational Response Force. Half of it is comprised of a "very high readiness joint task Force." This includes a land brigade of around 5,000 troops and air, maritime and special operation forces components.

"Secretary Austin has placed a range of units in the United States on a heightened preparedness to deploy, which increases our readiness to provide forces if NATO should activate the NRF or if other situations develop," the Press Secretary said.

Kirby made it clear that "No decisions have been made to deploy any forces from the United States at this time."

He said the United States and its allies have a good "site picture" of the Russian moves to surround Ukraine. "It's very clear that the Russians have no intention, right now, of de-escalating," he said.

Kirby urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to utilize time and space for negotiations to defuse the situation.

In order to strengthen defenses in eastern Europe, some members of the NATO alliance, including Denmark, Spain, France and the Netherlands, are reportedly planning to send fighter jets and warships to the region.

In a video conference Tuesday, US President Joe Biden and European leaders discussed their joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine, including massive economic sanctions on Russia and to reinforce security on NATO's eastern flank.

They committed to continued close consultation with transatlantic Allies and partners, including working with and through the EU, NATO, and the OSCE.

Biden said there is "total unanimity" with European leaders over Russian military build-up on Ukraine's borders.

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Polish President Andrzej Duda, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel attended the conference call.

Russia has deployed around 100,000 troops near the border with its western neighbor. However, Kremlin denies reports that it is planning a cross-border attack.

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