Pentagon readies 8,500 troops for possible Eastern Europe deployment

The Pentagon has put 8,500 U.S. troops on higher alert to prepare them for possible deployment to Eastern Europe as Russia may be preparing to invade Ukraine.

“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,” press secretary John Kirby told reporters Monday.

The U.S. wants to be ready to participate in a NATO response if Russia does act against Ukraine, and may also be preparing to assist other countries in the region if Russia should set its ambitions beyond Ukraine.

Kirby emphasized that no decisions have been made to deploy troops at this time.

“Bolster our allies”

“We’re going to be ready, we’re going to be prepared to help bolster our allies with capabilities they might need,” Kirby said. “We’re going to do this in lockstep with them … This is really about reassuring the Eastern flank of NATO.”

The State Department advised U.S. citizens in Ukraine, including diplomats, to leave the country ahead of a suspected invasion as well.

At least 100,000 Russian troops are now amassed on the Ukraine border, and report are that an invasion will happen within the next month before a spring thaw creates a risk of Russian tanks getting stuck in the mud as they try to advance.

Former Ukraine Ambassador John Herbst said he thinks it is possible that Putin will invade Ukraine, but that he is also afraid of the response.

“Putin is afraid”

“My personal view is that’s a possibility, but I think [Putin] is afraid of the response,” Herbst told CNBC.

Putin may also have been emboldened by Preisdent Joe Biden during a Biden press conference last week, during which Biden seemed to assume Putin was going to go into Ukraine and hinted he was resigned to it.

“He is trying to find his place in the world between China and the West,” Biden said about Putin’s reasons for amassing troops. “I’m not so sure he is certain what he’s going to do. My guess is he will move in, he has to do something.”

Biden also seemed to say that a “minor incursion” might not be punished by NATO.

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