When the crisis in Ukraine began late last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government issued a lengthy list of demands to the U.S. and its European allies. At the top, was the call to all nations for them to remove their former Soviet-bloc countries bordering Russia of all their equipment and troops.
On Tuesday, less than 24 hours after Putin ordered the invasion of breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, the U.S. military is sending even more firepower to Russia’s doorstep.
American forces, fighter and attack planes were ordered by President Joe Biden to enter eastern Europe in order to deter Russia’s aggression and reassure allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “As Russia contemplates its next move, we have our next move prepared as well,” Biden said at the White House Tuesday. “I have authorized additional movements of U.S. forces and equipment already stationed in Europe to strengthen our Baltic allies, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.”
The White House and European allies have scrambled to respond since Russia began massing more than 190,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders. Biden insists that U.S. troops won’t fight in Ukraine. However, he temporarily relocated American troops from Europe to increase defenses. “These are totally defensive moves on our part,” Biden said Tuesday. “We have no intention of fighting Russia. We want to send an unmistakable message that the United States together with our allies will defend every inch of NATO territory and abide by the commitments we made to NATO.”
Around 6,000 U.S. troops have been deployed to Germany, Poland, and Romania. In Poland, U.S. paratroopers with the from the 82nd Airborne Division are setting up military facilities in preparation for processing thousands of refugees expected to flee across the country’s eastern border with Ukraine should Moscow launch a mass invasion. Romania borders Ukraine to its south. Army Stryker units made up of 1000 troops, have made their way from Germany to set themselves up for future frontier problems. To strengthen Eastern European aerial defenses, a battalion consisting of twenty attack helicopters as well as two dozen fighter aircrafts was ordered.
Over 90,000 U.S. troops are now stationed on the continent. Most of these soldiers are located outside Eastern Europe. Biden’s increase in the American presence in Poland has been more than twice that of the previous month. They now have nearly 2000 troops there.
The forces Biden announced on Tuesday include an infantry battalion task force of about 800 service members that will move from Italy to the Baltic region; up to eight F-35 fighter jets from Germany to unnamed bases “along NATO’s eastern flank;” 20 AH-64 Apache helicopters from Germany to the Baltics; and 12 other Apache helicopters from Greece to Poland.
The deployments were made in response to Putin’s increasingly aggressive moves. On Monday, the Russian President recognized the self-declared independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, and then directed Russian troops to occupy the territory for “peacekeeping functions.” U.S. and European leaders say they believe this is just the beginning of military campaign that could become the largest conflict on the European continent since World War II.
The deployment of additional ground and air forces to NATO’s eastern flank carries risks. Communication between the U.S. and Russia—nations commanding the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals—has been limited ever since Putin annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014. The talks were further hampered when American intelligence agencies discovered that Russia had engaged in multi-pronged efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Both sides are more likely to make mistakes if there is less communication.
Biden and European leaders also enacted broad-ranging sanctions against Russian banks and oligarchs, in addition to their military actions. Germany said that it had stopped the certification of Nord Stream 2, which was designed to transport natural gas 750 miles between Russia and Germany.
“We still believe that Russia is poised to go much further in launching a massive military attack against Ukraine,” Biden said. “I hope I’m wrong about that. But Russia has only escalated this threat against the rest of Ukrainian territory including major cities including the capital city of Kyiv.”
U.S. Defense secretary Lloyd J. Austin stated Friday that Poland might see thousands of Ukrainians cross its borders to escape the violence. He stood beside Mariusz Blaszczak (Polish Defense Minister), who said that the country was ready to accept refugees. “We, as a nation that has so strongly and badly experienced World War II, we know what support is all about,” he said. “We are ready, of course, to support all those who need the support and who suffer because of such an aggression.”
Russian lawmakers approved Putin’s use of military force against Russia Tuesday. This raised concerns that Russian troops might be pushing into Ukraine. Putin said the current crisis could be resolved if Ukraine unilaterally stopped fighting the Russian-backed separatists in the east, promised never to join NATO and formally recognized Moscow’s sovereignty over Crimea. “It will depend on a concrete situation as it takes shape on the ground,” Putin said when asked about his forces’ mission.