KYIV, Ukraine — President Biden is dispatching additional U.S. military personnel to Eastern Europe at the recommendation of the Pentagon, and about 3,000 service members are expected to deploy in the coming days, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The deployments of U.S. troops from Germany and Fort Bragg, N.C., are temporary moves intended to reassure NATO allies, according to two U.S. officials in Washington who spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of a formal Pentagon announcement. The moves reflect concerns that Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine, and other service members could also be ordered to go and remain on a heightened alert status, the officials said.
At Biden’s direction and following Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s recommendation, the Defense Department “will reposition certain Europe-based units further east, forward deploy additional U.S.-based units to Europe, and maintain the heightened state of readiness of response forces” to meet American commitments, a senior administration official said in Washington. “These forces are not going to fight in Ukraine. They are not permanent moves. They respond to current conditions.”
Roughly 1,000 service members who are already based in Germany are moving to Romania, and roughly 2,000 are moving from Fort Bragg to Germany and Poland, officials said.
In ordering the deployments, the United States is seeking to strike a balance between reassuring NATO allies who desire an additional U.S. military presence and not wanting to exacerbate an already delicate situation.
The announcement coincides with sharpened verbal attacks between U.S. and Russian officials over the Ukraine crisis. Moscow’s ambassador in Washington accused the White House of “demonizing” Russia and lying about the Kremlin’s history of aggression.
Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov slammed White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s characterization of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a leader who has used chemical weapons and “invaded multiple countries in the past several years.”
Instead, he claimed Moscow had a better record of compliance with international chemical weapons treaties, according to comments posted on the embassy’s Facebook page late Tuesday. He also criticized Washington’s “bloody experiments” to bring democracy to the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
Those interventions brought the world “nothing but chaos, instability and loss of lives,” Antonov said. “We encourage our colleagues to look in the mirror more often before blaming or lecturing others.”
The sharp rhetoric followed the White House’s dismissal of Putin’s claim that Moscow would be forced into conflict with NATO if Ukraine joins the Western military alliance and attempts to seize back Crimea, which the Kremlin annexed in 2014.
That assertion was Putin’s latest effort to paint Ukraine and its partners in the West as the aggressors in the current crisis, even as Moscow masses more than 100,000 troops around the borders of its smaller neighbor. The Russian leader also accused the United States and NATO of using Ukraine to hem in Russia and ignoring Moscow’s security concerns.
“When the fox is screaming from the top of the henhouse that he’s scared of the chickens, which is essentially what they’re doing, that fear isn’t reported as a statement of fact,” Psaki said Tuesday, as Western officials continued diplomatic efforts to defuse a potential further Russian invasion of Ukraine. “We know who the fox is in this case.”
Joining the back-and-forth, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov retorted Wednesday that Russia was a bear, not a fox, and “too big and heavy to climb on a henhouse.”
Moscow has long taken issue with NATO granting membership to countries in the former Soviet sphere, and it has demanded that the organization roll back its forces in Eastern Europe and promise that Ukraine will never join the alliance. NATO has refused to change its open door policy allowing countries to seek entry into the bloc, whose members are bound to defend each other against attack.
“Let’s imagine that Ukraine is a member of NATO, is stuffed with weapons — there are modern offensive systems, like in Poland and Romania — and begins an operation in the Crimea,” Putin said Tuesday. “Do we have to fight with the NATO bloc? Has anyone thought anything about it? It seems not.”
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas of Estonia, which joined NATO in 2004, blamed Russia for starting the crisis. “First of all, it is that Russia is creating this military buildup around Ukraine and then presenting ultimatums,” she said Tuesday on Washington Post Live.
European nations continued to shore up support for Ukraine. The Netherlands will ramp up cybersecurity assistance to Ukraine and extend a program to provide rehabilitation services to injured soldiers, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Wednesday in a joint statement with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, following their meeting in Kyiv Wednesday.
The same day that Putin accused the West of making Ukraine a pawn in a great-power showdown, Russia’s top diplomat at the United Nations indicated Moscow would use its rotating presidency of the Security Council this month to shine a spotlight on contentious issues, such as the use of sanctions as a foreign policy tool.
“We’ve been sanctioned so many times that we’ve lost count,” Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said at a news conference Tuesday. “The most ironic thing about it is they’re now talking about sanctions before anything happens — preventive sanctions.”
Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said Wednesday that Moscow was ready to defend itself against a threat to sever Russia’s biggest banks from dollar-dominated international financial networks.
“We have contingency plans, risk-hedging plans and plans to minimize consequences of the unpredictable steps,” Peskov told reporters.
Peskov also said there were no plans at present for further talks between Putin and President Biden.
“It is always good when the presidents talk to each other. It always gives a good impetus to bilateral relations, but they do so when they deem it necessary,” Peskov said.
Nebenzya, Russia’s U.N. ambassador, also suggested that he would use the United Nations to highlight the Minsk agreements as a political solution to the Ukraine crisis.
The accords, which are viewed as generally favorable to Moscow, were brokered by Berlin and Paris after the Russian annexation of Crimea. The Kremlin has charged the West with failing to push Ukraine to implement the 2015 accord that called for a measure of autonomy in Ukraine’s rebel-held east and an amnesty for Russian-backed insurgents there.
The peace deal was widely condemned by Ukrainians, and officials in Kyiv have warned that implementing it now would destabilize the country. The deal also called on Russia to end its interference in the region and withdraw troops from the Ukrainian border.
The Ukraine-Russia standoff continues to alarm regional neighbors and has prompted top NATO leaders to visit Kyiv in recent days. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who met Zelensky on Tuesday, appealed to Russian citizens to think about the human cost of war.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, also in Kyiv, pledged to help Ukraine with energy, arms and financial aid. “Living close to a neighbor like Russia, we have the feeling of living at the foot of a volcano,” he said.
Pannett reported from Sydney. Lamothe and Parker reported from Washington. William Branigin, Karen DeYoung and Chitra Wadhwani in Washington and Robyn Dixon in Moscow contributed to this report.