Nato has announced it is sending additional ships and fighter jets to existing bases in Eastern Europe, as well as putting extra troops on standby, as tensions escalate in Ukraine.
Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of Nato, said the move is designed to enhance deterrence and defence in Eastern Europe, adding that Nato “will always respond to any deterioration of our security environment”.
“Nato will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all Allies, including by reinforcing the eastern part of the Alliance,” Mr Stoltenberg said in a statement.
The alliance pointed to decisions in recent days by Denmark to send a frigate and warplanes to the Baltics, Spain bolstering naval deployments and the Netherlands putting a “ship and land-based units on standby” for its rapid response force.
In response, Russian lawmaker Andrei Kartapolov, who heads the Russian parliament’s defence committee, said the country will “respond appropriately” in case more US military personnel are deployed to Eastern Europe and the Baltic region, according to Ifax.
The move comes as Joe Biden is considering deploying several thousand troops along with warships and aircraft to the Baltic region and Eastern Europe, according to reports in the New York Times.
Troop deployment would represent a major policy shift from the Biden administration which up until recently was taking a restrained stance on Ukraine, out of fear of provoking Russia into invading.
Mr Biden, who has been reluctant to increase the US’s military involvement, reportedly discussed an array of options with senior Pentagon officials at Camp David on Saturday.
Proposals included sending up to 5,000 troops to eastern European allies, with the option of increasing the tenfold if the situation worsens.
However, the US is understood to have ruled out deploying troops in Ukraine itself, although officials have floated plans to throw its weight behind an insurgency should the Russians invade.
How Russia could invade Ukraine
“Even as we’re engaged in diplomacy, we are very much focused on building up defense, building up deterrence,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation.’
“NATO itself will continue to be reinforced in a significant way if Russia commits renewed acts of aggression. All of that is on the table.”
Nations reportedly under consideration for troop deployment include Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, all of whom are on Nato’s eastern flank.
Officials said that if Mr. Biden approved the deployment, some of the troops would come from the United States, while others would move from other parts of Europe.
The move comes as Denmark’s foreign minister said the European Union is ready to impose “never-seen-before” economic sanctions if Russia attacks Ukraine ahead of a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers.
“There’s no doubt we are ready to react with comprehensive, never-seen-before sanctions if Russia were to invade Ukraine again,” Jeppe Kofod told reporters, declining to say what sectors would be targeted.
“Russia should know, (President Vladimir) Putin should know that the price of using provocations and military forces to change borders in Europe will be very, very high… We are ready to undertake the most severe sanctions, also more severe than in 2014,” he said.
Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod answers journalists’ questions ahead of a Foreign Affairs Council meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels Credit: JOHN THYS /AFP
The US State Department ordered the evacuation of diplomats’ family members from Kyiv on Sunday night as non-essential staff were also given the option of leaving.
It also advised US citizens to consider departing.
“There are reports Russia is planning significant military action against Ukraine,” the State Department said in a statement.
“The security conditions, particularly along Ukraine’s borders, in Russia-occupied Crimea, and in Russia-controlled eastern Ukraine, are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice.”
As Britain follows America’s lead in evacuating embassy staff, EU diplomats announced their staff would remain in the country.
Top European diplomat Josep Borrell added that there was no need to “dramatise” the situation while talks with Russia continue.
Ukrainian officials said it was “premature” of the United States to evacuate the families of its diplomatic staff.
“We consider such a step by the American side premature and a display of excessive caution,” Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said in a statement.
He added that there have been “no radical changes” recently in the security situation in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russia separatists have been locked in conflict with the Ukraine army since 2014.
“The Russian Federation is currently making active efforts to destabilise the domestic situation in Ukraine,” Mr Nikolenko said.
He said “disinformation, manipulation” was being spread by the media to “sow panic among Ukrainians and foreigners”.
“In this situation it is important to soberly access the risks and keep calm,” Mr Nikolenko added.
The move had been signalled by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier on Sunday when he appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press.
“I have no higher responsibility than the safety and well-being of the folks who work for the State Department and who are under my care, in a sense,” he said.
“So we’re tracking this very, very closely. We’re looking at it on really a daily basis.”
“And if we need to make a determination that we should draw down some of the folks at the embassy, we’ll do that based on the security need.” he added.
Washington has also issued a travel advisory warning Americans to avoid all travel to Russia due to the situation “along the border with Ukraine” warning they could face “harassment”.
Last week White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, warned that Russia could invade Ukraine at any time.