NATO said that it was placing soldiers on standby and bolstering Eastern Europe with additional ships and fighter planes, as well as the possibility of sending additional troops to its southeast flank, in a move that Russia condemned as an escalation of tensions over Ukraine.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday that NATO will take “all necessary actions” in response to a series of deployments announced by alliance countries in recent days.
As a result, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov accused the US and NATO of inflaming tensions through information hysteria and physical steps.
He claimed the risk of a Ukrainian military attack against pro-Russian rebels was now “very significant.”
So far, NATO has about 4,000 troops in multinational battalions in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland, backed by tanks, air defenses, and intelligence and surveillance units.
The US military said on Monday it has put up to 8,500 troops on alert to be ready to deploy to Europe, potentially at very short notice, should the NATO alliance activate a rapid response force.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby stressed that no decision had yet been made on whether to deploy the troops and that any such deployment would separate from intra-European movements of US troops to NATO’s eastern flank, to reassure nervous allies.
Tensions have soared over Russia’s deployment of some 100,000 troops and heavy armor at its neighbor’s borders, despite the Kremlin’s insistence it is not planning a new incursion almost eight years after it seized Crimea.
The US, the UK, and Australia have all ordered diplomats’ families to leave Kyiv, while France has advised its people to stay away from Ukraine unless it is absolutely necessary.
Any removal of diplomatic staff, according to both Kyiv and the European Union’s foreign policy leader, is premature, notwithstanding questions about the timing of any attack.
Meanwhile, the European Commission, the EU executive body, proposed a $1.36bn financial aid package to help Ukraine mitigate the effects of the conflict with Russia.