The United States put this Monday on alert 8,500 military by the growing tension in Ukraine and President Joe Biden called on European allies in an effort to maintain unity in the face of pressure from Russia.
Meanwhile, the European Union urged allies to avoid a “nervous breakdown” amid fears Russia might carry out a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Despite insisting he has no intention of attacking, Russian President Vladimir Putin has deployed some 100,000 troops near Ukraine, where Russia already seized Crimea in 2014 and is backing separatist forces in the east.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said they have put up to 8,500 military personnel on “high alert” but that troops have not yet been deployed. Most of these troops would serve to assist the NATO Response Force if activated.
“This is about … reassuring our NATO allies,” Kirby said. “It sends a very clear signal to Putin that we take our responsibilities to NATO seriously.”
The Atlantic Alliance also stated that it is sending planes and ships to reinforce its eastern flank.
The stress caused markets to plunge, with Russia’s main stock index plummeting and the central bank suspending currency purchases after the ruble tumbled.
Russia is demanding guarantees that Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, will never be able to join NATO, as well as other concessions from the United States in exchange for de-escalation.
The United States and NATO rejected the Russian demands, calling on Putin to de-escalate and warning him that a Russian attack on Ukraine would trigger “tough” economic sanctions as well as a reinforced NATO presence in Eastern Europe.
France announced that Russian and Ukrainian officials will meet, along with their French and German counterparts, in Paris on Wednesday to try to find a way out of the crisis.
in search of unity
As the crisis drags on, Washington is trying to maintain NATO and transatlantic unity against Russia, which supplies around 40% of the European Union’s natural gas.
At the White House, Biden is scheduled to have a “secure” video call with the leaders of France, Germany, the UK, Italy, Poland, the EU and NATO.
The White House says the conversation “is part of our close consultation and coordination with our transatlantic allies.”
Kirby insisted that there are no differences between Washington and the EU allies.
In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said — after speaking with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken — that there was nothing to suggest an “immediate” Russian attack.
“It is necessary to remain calm and do what is necessary, but avoiding a nervous breakdown,” he said.
Both Kiev and the EU believe that the withdrawal of foreign embassy staff was premature.
But the United Kingdom and Australia followed in the footsteps of the United States and ordered the families of diplomats to leave Kiev, while France asked its citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky told European Council President Charles Michel that it was “important to preserve the unity of all EU member states in order to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Ukraine.
The US-led NATO alliance says its members were putting troops “on standby” and sending ships and planes to bolster Eastern Europe’s defenses in response to the Russian deployment. Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands recently decided to mobilize forces.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg insisted the alliance “will continue to take all necessary steps to protect” members.
The Kremlin accused NATO of “hysteria” and warned that Ukrainian troops fighting Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country could launch an offensive.
Referring to the Kremlin’s accusations, Zelensky’s office said Ukraine will not “give in to provocations.”
The United States has warned that Moscow could stage a fake incident in Ukraine as a pretext to invade the country.
Discrepancies in the EU
The EU and the US are trying to agree on a package of sanctions against Moscow to deter Russia.
But the 27-country bloc is made up of countries with very different approaches and ties to Russia.
Kiev criticized the new German government for refusing to send weapons to Ukraine and questioning one of the harshest economic punishments being discussed: excluding Moscow from the SWIFT global payment system.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock insisted that any new aggression from Moscow would have a “clear response” from Europe and spoke of Berlin’s economic support for Kiev.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc was preparing a 1.2 billion euro emergency financial aid package for Ukraine.