Ukraine-Russia Conflict: Pentagon Puts 8,500 Troops On 'Heightened Alert'

The Pentagon is putting about 8,500 U.S.-based troops on heightened alert for potential deployment to Europe as there are rising fears the Russian military may make a move on Ukraine.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said no final decisions had been made on deployments as of Monday afternoon, The Associated Press reports.

Kirby said a decision regarding deployment would only be made if the NATO alliance decides to activate a rapid-response force, "or if other situations develop," in connection with tensions over Russia's military buildup along Ukraine's borders, per the AP.

"What this is about is reassurance to our NATO allies," Kirby said, mentioning that no troops are intended for deployment to Ukraine itself.

Kirby said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recommended to President Joe Biden that about 8,500 troops be ordered to prepare for potential deployment to Europe as there's an indication Russian President Vladimir Putin is not de-escalating his military pressure on Ukraine, the AP reports.

The Pentagon press secretary said he wasn't going to identify which U.S.-based units at this time, as they were still being notified.

The White House said later Monday that Biden was to hold a video call with several European leaders on the Russian military conflict and potential responses to an invasion.

“We’ve always said we would reinforce our allies on the eastern flank, and those conversations and discussions have certainly been part of what our national security officials have been discussing with their counterparts now for several weeks,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, per the AP.

The Pentagon’s move to put troops on heightened alert comes as tensions grew between Russia and the West over concerns that Moscow is planning to invade Ukraine, the AP reports. NATO outlined potential troop and ship deployments, Britain said it would pull some diplomats from Kyiv, and Ireland condemn upcoming Russian war games off its coast.

The Pentagon press sec said Austin was anticipating the potential for NATO to activate what it calls the NATO Response Force — a multinational force totaling about 40,000 troops, the AP reports.

Most of the 8,500 U.S. troops being put on higher alert would be sent as part of that response force if activated and said he could not rule out that U.S. troops already based in Europe could be shifted east as further reinforcements to the response.

White House officials detailed U.S. Diplomatic engagement with European allies and partners ahead of talks with Russia on Jan. 10, stating the U.S. and its allies have "underscored its readiness to impose significant costs on Russia if it takes further military action against Ukraine" and "have stressed our preference for de-escalation through diplomacy."

“We are absolutely committed to the principle nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine, just as we are fully committed to the principle nothing about Europe without Europe," Secretary of State Tony Blinken said on Jan. 7.