And they underscore growing fears across Europe that Russian President Vladimir Putin is poised to invade Ukraine — and smaller NATO countries on the eastern flank worry they could be next.
The deployments to Eastern Europe, which were first reported by CNN, are a show of support to NATO allies feeling threatened by Russia’s military moves near Ukraine, US officials said. The troops are expected to deploy “in the coming days,” the officials said.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the deployments include roughly 2,000 troops from the United States to Poland and Germany in the coming days. In addition, approximately 1,000 troops currently based in Germany are being deployed to Romania.
Kirby said that the moves were not permanents and emphasised, “These forces are not going to fight in Ukraine.”
Biden had said recently that he intended to provide additional US forces to NATO allies in Eastern Europe as reassurance of an American commitment as treaty allies.
The Pentagon also has put about 8,500 US-based troops on higher alert for possible deployment to Europe as additional reassurance to allies, and officials have indicated the possibility that additional units could be placed on higher alert soon.
The US already has between 75,000 and 80,000 troops in Europe as permanently stationed forces and as part of regular rotations in place such as Poland.
Kirby said that the troops being deployed are separate and in addition to the 8,500 US troops that were placed on heightened alert last week that could be moved to Europe to support NATO’s response force if it’s activated.
The troops will operate on a bilateral basis with their host countries, since NATO has not yet activated a multinational response force.
Washington and Moscow have been at loggerheads over Ukraine, with little sign of a diplomatic path forward. A Spanish newspaper on Wednesday reported that the United States could be willing to enter into an agreement with Russia to ease tensions over missile deployments in Europe if Moscow steps back from the brink in Ukraine.
The daily El Pais published two documents purported to be written replies from the United States and NATO last week to Russia’s proposals for a new security arrangement in Europe. The US State department declined to comment on them.
In reference to the second document, NATO said that it never comments on “alleged leaks.” But the text closely reflects statements made to the media last week by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg as he laid out the 30-nation military organisation’s position on Russia’s demands.
The US document, marked as a confidential “non-paper,” said that the United States would be willing to discuss in consultation with its NATO partners “a transparency mechanism to confirm the absences of Tomahawk cruise missiles at Aegis Ashore sites in Romania and Poland.”
That would happen on condition that Russia “offers reciprocal transparency measures on two ground-launched missiles bases of our choosing in Russia.”
Aegis Ashore is a system for defending against short- or intermediate-range missiles. Russia argues the site in Romania could be easily adapted to fire cruise missiles instead of interceptors, which ram their target and do not carry warheads, a claim that Washington has denied.
Russian President Vladimir Putin again mentioned the possibility Tuesday, saying that “there are MK-41 launchers there that could be configured for firing Tomahawks.” He said they “are offensive systems that could reach thousands of kilometres into our territory. Isn’t that a threat to us?”
The US document said Washington would have to consult with NATO allies on the potential offer, particularly with Romania and Poland.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on the leaked documents, saying only that “we didn’t release anything.” In comments to the state RIA Novosti news agency, Russia’s Foreign Ministry also refused to confirm or deny that the documents published by El Pais were authentic.
Fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine have mounted in recent months, after Putin deployed more than 100,000 troops to areas near Ukraine’s borders, including in neighbouring Belarus, backed by tanks, artillery, helicopters and warplanes. Russian officials have insisted that Moscow has no intention of invading.
Notable in its absence from the leaked documents is any mention of Ukraine’s hopes of joining NATO. Putin has demanded that NATO stop taking in any new members and withdraw its troops and equipment from countries that joined the alliance since 1997, almost half its ranks.
In the leaked document linked to NATO, the 30 allies said they “reaffirm our commitment to NATO’s Open Door policy,” without specifically mentioning Ukraine. Under Article 10 of NATO’s founding treaty, other European countries may be invited in if they further the goals of European security.
At a NATO summit in 2008, NATO leaders said that they welcomed “Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO,” adding: “We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.”
Russia invaded Georgia later that year, and in 2014 annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Around 14,000 people have been killed in the conflict that still simmers in eastern Ukraine. Their membership plans have been on hold for years, although NATO continues to support them and promote reforms.