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Ukraine: NATO to put more forces on standby

Newsman: United States announced it’s pulling out diplomats’ families and some staff from its embassy in the country. Meanwhile, NATO announced it was putting extra forces on standby.

As Russia continues to mass tens of thousands of troops close to Ukraine’s borders, NATO said the alliance was sending a small number of ships and fighter jets to Eastern Europe to strengthen its “deterrence” presence there and reassure its eastern members,

The Biden administration is considering sending as many as 5,000 U.S. troops to Eastern Europe, a U.S. official confirmed to NPR, in what would be a step-up in American military involvement in the region amid growing fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

U.S. service members could be drawn from their existing posts elsewhere in NATO countries in Europe. Some of the troops would also likely come from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C.

U.S. troops could be headed to Romania and Poland, or possibly Bulgaria or Hungary. No final decision has been made but the troops have been told to be ready to move, the official said.

The New York Times, which first reported the news of planned troop movements, said senior Pentagon officials laid out a number of options for President Biden on Saturday.

Among them, sending 1,000 to 5,000 troops to Eastern European countries and the Baltics, “with the potential to increase that number tenfold if things deteriorate,” according to the Times.

There are no plans to send more Americans into Ukraine itself, according to the paper.

However, the   U.S. aid to Ukraine has largely come in the form of military equipment. A Biden administration shipment of aid — close to 200,000 pounds of “lethal aid” including ammunition — arrived in Ukraine on Sunday. In October, the U.S. sent Ukraine 30 Javelin anti-tank guided missile systems.

There are already more than 150 U.S. military advisers in Ukraine, the Times reported, though they are far from any potential front lines and would likely leave the country quickly after a Russian invasion.

Last week, Biden said he had warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country’s invasion of Ukraine would cause Washington to send more troops to the region.

“We’re going to actually increase troop presence in Poland, in Romania, et cetera, if in fact he moves,” Biden said in a news conference, pointing out that the two countries are NATO members.

Ukraine is not a NATO member, and Russia has demanded that it never become one.

Russia has stationed more than 100,000 troops near the Ukraine border, raising fears of an imminent assault on the country. Russia has rejected that it has such plans in store.

While Ukraine boasts mighty military power, Russia’s bigger, more modern army would likely give it the upper hand should the country invade.

The State Department earlier Sunday ordered the departure of diplomats’ families from Ukraine, in a move that officials assured did not signify waning support for the country.

Meanwhile, Denmark is sending a frigate to the Baltic Sea and four F-16 warplanes to Lithuania. At the same time, France is ready to send troops to Romania under NATO command, and Spain is considering deploying fighter jets to Bulgaria, NATO said in a statement. The Netherlands has agreed to send two F-35 jets to Bulgaria and has put a ship and land-based forces on standby for a NATO response force, officials said.

“NATO will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all Allies, including by reinforcing the eastern part of the Alliance,” NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

The NATO announcement coincided with a report in The New York Times that the Biden administration may be preparing to send up to 5,000 American troops to Eastern European members of the alliance.

The White House and the Pentagon have not confirmed the report, though the administration has previously said sending more U.S. troops to Eastern Europe is on the table if Russia attacks Ukraine.

NATO on Monday said the “United States has also made clear that it is considering increasing its military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance.”

The steps to boost NATO’s readiness came as the U.S. State Department announced Sunday it was ordering the families of its diplomats at its embassy in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv to leave the country over security fears.

The State Department said it has also authorized non-emergency staff at the embassy to depart voluntarily.

The United Kingdom on Monday followed suit, with its Foreign Office saying some embassy staff and their dependents would be withdrawn “in response to the growing threat from Russia.”

Ukraine’s government criticized the U.S. evacuation calling them “premature” and “excessively cautious.”

“While we respect right of foreign nations to ensure safety & security of their diplomatic missions, we believe such a step to be a premature one & an instance of excessive caution,” Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, tweeted.

Ukrainian officials are unhappy with the message the evacuations send by suggesting that a Russian invasion could be imminent. In general, they are much more skeptical that Russia is planning to launch a major attack and worry that western countries risk helping Moscow by exaggerating the risk and spreading panic.

Privately, American officials acknowledge there is a gap between the Ukrainian and U.S. assessment of the level of threat. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a U.S. official told ABC News this weekend that Ukraine was “p—– off” over the evacuations.

A senior State Department official on Sunday insisted the embassy drawdown did not undermine America’s commitment to Ukraine, saying they were just “prudent precautions” given the heightened fear of a Russian attack.

The official said the decision was “based on this military buildup, based on how we see these developments,” calling it the “right moment.”

Those leaving the embassy will do so on commercial flights, the State Department has said, indicating it is not an emergency evacuation.

Russia has repeatedly insisted it has no intention of attacking Ukraine. However, its military buildup continues near Ukraine’s eastern border and now in Belarus, where trainloads of Russian tanks and artillery have been arriving for joint exercises there.

A top commander of Russian-controlled separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine on Monday also accused Ukraine’s military of preparing to launch an offensive against the separatist areas.

Ukraine’s government has insisted it will not launch any offensive and there is no evidence Ukraine is preparing to.

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