TANKS ride during joint exercises by Russian and Belarusian forces at a firing range in Belarus.—Reuters
TANKS ride during joint exercises by Russian and Belarusian forces at a firing range in Belarus.—Reuters

WASHINGTON: The United States said on Wednesday it was deploying thousands of troops to bolster Nato forces in eastern Europe, ratcheting up its military response to fears that Russia could invade Ukraine.

Russia has massed than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, and Western leaders have warned that any incursion into the ex-Soviet nation would be met with “severe consequences.” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said 1,000 US troops in Germany would deploy to Romania, and 2,000 based in the United States would be sent to Germany and Poland.

“It’s important that we send a strong signal to (President Vladimir) Putin and the world that Nato matters to the United States,” Kirby said, adding “this is not the sum total of the deterrence actions that we will take.” “These forces are not going to fight in Ukraine,” he stressed. “They are not permanent moves. They respond to current conditions.” As Nato leaders pursued diplomatic efforts to avert any invasion of pro-Western Ukraine, a senior Kremlin official stressed that Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping shared views on global security.

Russia denies any plans to invade its neighbour, with Putin accusing the West of failing to respect Moscow’s security concerns.

The Kremlin said China would explicitly back Russia’s stance when Putin visits Beijing for the opening of the Winter Olympics this week.

“China supports Russia’s demands for security guarantees,” the Kremlin’s top foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov told reporters.

Russian officials have demanded a ban on Ukraine joining Nato and on the deployment of missile systems near Russia’s borders, as well as a pullback of the US-led military alliance’s forces in eastern Europe.

In his first major remarks on the crisis in weeks, Putin on Tuesday suggested Washington was using Kyiv as an instrument to potentially drag Moscow into a war.

“Ukraine itself is just a tool to achieve this goal” of containing Russia, Putin said.

Putin left the door open to talks however, saying he hoped that “in the end we will find a solution.” The United States and Nato have provided written responses to Moscow’s demands, which Putin said he is studying.

Spanish newspaper El Pais on Wednesday published what it said were leaked copies of the responses, which showed Washington and Nato offering Moscow arms control and trust-building measures.

The proposals remain firm on insisting that Ukraine and any other country have a right to apply to join the alliance.

But the reported US response suggests “reciprocal commitments by both the United States and Russia to refrain from deploying offensive ground-launched missile systems and permanent forces with a combat mission in the territory of Ukraine.” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was meanwhile the latest Nato leader to visit Kiev in a show of support for Ukraine, where he met President Volodymyr Zelensky.

After the talks, Zelensky said Ukraine was focused “only on peace”, but insisted it has the right to defend itself. The Ukrainian leader had met a day earlier with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was due to hold a phone call with Putin on Wednesday.

Tensions have been further aggravated by plans for joint military exercises between Russia and neighboring Belarus, where Washington claims Moscow is preparing to send 30,000 troops.

While stressing that “conflict is not inevitable,” Kirby on Wednesday accused Putin of continuing “to destabilize the environment by adding more forces to the western part of his country and Belarus.” Video footage released by the Russian defense ministry on Wednesday showed tanks speeding across snowy fields in Belarus and combat helicopters flying overhead as units from both countries practised ahead of the February 10-20 drills.

Ukraine has been battling Moscow-backed insurgencies in two separatist regions since 2014, when Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the fighting, the last major ongoing war in Europe.

Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2022

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