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Ukraine: US troops on high alert over stand-off

Socialapps.Tech 23 Jan 24
Image source, AFP/Getty Images
Image caption,
The Pentagon says US troops are on standby to deploy to Europe, should Russia invade Ukraine (file picture)

Some 8,500 combat-ready US troops are on high alert to deploy at short notice amid rising tension over Ukraine, the Pentagon says.

The news comes with Russia denying it plans military action against Ukraine, despite massing 100,000 troops nearby.

President Biden is scheduled to hold a call with European allies as Western powers focus on a common strategy in the face of Russian aggression.

The Pentagon said no decision had yet been made on whether to deploy troops.

It would only happen if the Nato military alliance decides to activate a rapid-reaction force, "or if other situations develop" around the Russian troop build-up, said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.

There are no plans to deploy to Ukraine itself, he added.

"It's proving how seriously the US takes its commitment to Nato," Mr Kirby said.

Some Nato members, including Denmark, Spain, Bulgaria and the Netherlands, are already sending fighter jets and warships to eastern Europe to bolster defences in the region.

Over the weekend, some 90 tonnes of US "lethal aid" including ammunition for "front-line defenders" arrived in Ukraine.

As well as President Biden, Monday's video call will include UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Polish President Andrzej Duda and Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg.

EU leaders Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel will also dial in.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has warned that "gloomy" intelligence suggests Russia is planning a lightning raid on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

"The intelligence is very clear that there are 60 Russian battle groups on the borders of Ukraine, the plan for a lightning war that could take out Kyiv is one that everybody can see," he said.

"We need to make it very clear to the Kremlin, to Russia, that that would be a disastrous step."

Media caption,
Watch: Russia risks "a new Chechnya" if it invades Ukraine, warns Boris Johnson

The Biden administration told relatives of its embassy staff to leave Ukraine on Sunday.

Ukraine said the decision was "premature", calling it "a display of excessive caution".

The UK has also started withdrawing staff from its embassy, with about half set to leave Kyiv.

The man named by the Foreign Office - former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev - called the claims "stupid" in an interview with Reuters news agency, while Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted that the Foreign Office was "circulating disinformation".

When US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for talks in Switzerland last week, the Russian expressed hopes that "emotions will decrease".

Diplomatic wrangling has failed to ease tensions, however, and Russia's currency - the rouble - has seen big falls in value. The US and its allies have threatened new economic sanctions if the Russian military moves against Ukraine.

Image caption,
Mr Blinken and Mr Lavrov both described their talks in Geneva as "frank", but tensions have not abated

The Kremlin has said it sees Nato as a security threat, and is demanding legal guarantees that the alliance will not expand further east, including into neighbouring Ukraine. But the US has said the issue at stake is Russian aggression, not Nato expansion.

Nato's secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg has rejected Russia's demand for a veto, saying the alliance stands "for the right of each nation to choose its own alliances".

Russia has seized Ukrainian territory before, when it annexed Crimea in 2014. After Russian forces seized control of the territory, it voted to join Russia in a referendum the West and Ukraine deemed illegal.

Russian-backed rebels also control areas of eastern Ukraine near Russia's borders. That conflict has cost an estimated 14,000 lives, with a 2015 peace deal a long way from being fulfilled.

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