The United States is preparing to send about 2,700 troops to Poland and Romania to ease security concerns in central and eastern Europe, amid a continuing build-up of some 100,000 Russian soldiers and heavy weaponry near Ukraine.
Washington said that some 1,000 US servicemen now in Germany would transfer to Romania and about 2,000 troops would travel from the US to Europe, where around 1,700 would head to Poland and 300 to Germany.
"These are not permanent moves," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday. "They are designed to respond to the current security environment. Moreover, these forces are not going to fight in Ukraine. They are going to ensure the robust defence of our Nato allies."
The Pentagon said 8,500 troops in the US who were recently placed on heightened alert “are not currently being deployed, but remain ready to move if called to support the Nato response force, if it is activated, or as needed for other contingencies . . . We continue to review our force posture and the situation in Europe, as the gravity of this situation demands our full attention.”
The West has urged Moscow to reverse its accumulation of armed forces near Ukraine, which the US and Britain say resembles military preparation for a new assault on the country; the pro-western government in Kyiv insists there is no need for “panic”, while warning that an attack would spark “full-scale war in Europe”.
Russian president Vladimir Putin said this week that the West had “ignored” Moscow’s demands for Nato to bar Ukraine and other states in eastern Europe from membership and to withdraw its forces from current member states in the region.
In high-level talks in several formats last month, western diplomats said those terms were unacceptable, but that discussions could take place on possible arms control and greater transparency around Russian and Nato military exercises.
Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the Pentagon announcement as “a powerful signal of US commitment . . . to our shared security.
“Our deployments are defensive and proportional, and send the clear message that Nato will do whatever is necessary to protect and defend all allies.”
Mr Putin has accused the US of seeking "to contain Russia" and of using Ukraine as "a tool to get us involved in some armed conflict", and his officials have denounced a recent surge in arms deliveries to Kyiv by the US and Britain.
Mr Putin spoke to British prime minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday, who warned the president that a further incursion into Ukraine would be a “tragic miscalculation”, according to Downing Street, which described the 45-minute call as constructive and thorough.
On a visit to Kyiv on Tuesday, Mr Johnson accused Russia of "holding a gun to the head" of Ukraine, where in 2014 it annexed Crimea and started a proxy war in the eastern Donbas region that has now killed 14,000 people.
Officials in Moscow mocked Mr Johnson and British foreign secretary Liz Truss on Wednesday, amid sharp exchanges over British and US threats to impose severe economic sanctions on figures close to Mr Putin in the event of a new Russian attack on Ukraine.
“It makes sense to speak to anybody,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of the planned conservation with Mr Johnson. “Russia and president Putin are open to communicating with everyone. Even to someone who is utterly confused, he is prepared to provide exhaustive explanations.”
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova took aim at Ms Truss for comments in which she appeared to confuse the Baltic and Black Sea regions.
“Ms Truss, your knowledge of history is nothing compared to your knowledge of geography . . . If anyone needs saving from anything, it’s the world, from the stupidity and ignorance of British politicians,” Ms Zakharova wrote.
Arms and ammunition
A day after Mr Johnson pledged £88 million (€106 million) in assistance to Ukraine and visiting Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Warsaw would provide it with arms and ammunition, humanitarian aid and energy assistance, Dutch premier Mark Rutte flew into Kyiv on Wednesday.
He said the Netherlands would help bolster Ukraine’s defences against cyber attack, and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the two countries would build 48 hospitals and rehabilitation centres for his nation’s soldiers and veterans.
“I believe – we believe – that the only route to a solution is through de-escalation, diplomacy and dialogue,” said Mr Rutte, whose compatriots made up the majority of passengers killed when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over militia-held eastern Ukraine in 2014, allegedly by a missile delivered from the Russian army.
“The Netherlands’ priorities are establishing the truth . . . achieving justice, and holding those responsible to account,” Mr Rutte said beside Mr Zelenskiy. “It’s not an easy process but giving up is not an option for both of us.”