Reuters-By Phil Stewart and Dmitry Antonov
Ukrainian service members of the Air Assault Forces attend military drills in Lviv region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released February 1, 2022. Press service of the Ukrainian Air Assault Forces/Handout via REUTERS
- U.S. troops set to deploy to eastern Europe within days
- Scathing comments about UK signal no mood for compromise
- West fears Russia planning an invasion, which Moscow denies
- Washington offers talks but rejects main Russian demands
WASHINGTON/MOSCOW, Feb 2 (Reuters) – The United States will send nearly 3,000 extra troops to Poland and Romania to reinforce Eastern European NATO allies in the face of what Washington describes as a Russian threat to invade Ukraine, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
Russia, for its part, signalled it was in no mood for compromise by mocking Britain, calling Prime Minister Boris Johnson “utterly confused” and ridiculing what it said was the “stupidity and ignorance” of British politicians.
Moscow has massed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders. It denies any plan to invade its neighbour but says it could take unspecified military measures if its demands are not met, including a promise by NATO never to admit Kyiv.
A Stryker squadron of around 1,000 U.S. service members based in Vilseck, Germany would be sent to Romania, the Pentagon said, while around 1,700 service members, mainly from the 82nd Airborne Division, would deploy from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Poland. Three hundred other service members will move from Fort Bragg to Germany.
The objective, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said, was to send a “strong signal” to President Vladimir Putin “and frankly, to the world, that NATO matters to the United States and it matters to our allies”.
“We know that he also bristles at NATO, about NATO. He’s made no secret of that. We are making it clear that we’re going to be prepared to defend our NATO allies if it comes to that. Hopefully it won’t come to that.”
Poland’s Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said the U.S. deployment was a strong sign of solidarity. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed it, saying the alliance’s response to Russia was defensive and proportional.
Efforts to reach a diplomatic solution have faltered, with Western countries describing Russia’s main demands as non-starters and Moscow showing no sign of withdrawing them.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he would discuss the crisis with U.S. President Joe Biden in the coming hours and did not rule out travelling to Russia to meet with Putin. The priority was to avoid tensions rising, Macron said.
The Kremlin said Putin told Johnson that NATO was not responding adequately to its security concerns. Johnson’s office said he had told Putin an incursion would be a “tragic miscalculation” and they had agreed to apply a “spirit of dialogue”.
On Tuesday Johnson had accused Russia of holding a gun to Ukraine’s head, drawing caustic remarks from Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov before the call with Putin. Johnson had rescheduled the call to answer questions in parliament about accusations his staff violated COVID-19 lockdown rules.
“Russia and President Putin are open to communicating with everyone,” Peskov said. “Even to someone who is utterly confused, he is prepared to provide exhaustive explanations.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry mocked Johnson’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, for saying Britain was sending supplies to its “Baltic allies across the Black Sea” – two bodies of water that are on opposite sides of Europe.
“Mrs Truss, your knowledge of history is nothing compared to your knowledge of geography,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova wrote in a blog post. “If anyone needs saving from anything, it’s the world, from the stupidity and ignorance of British politicians.”
BEAR VS FOX
Nor did the Kremlin reserve its wit for Britain. Noting that White House spokesperson Jen Psaki had compared Moscow to a fox shouting from the top of a chicken coop, Peskov said: “Actually, it’s always traditional to compare Russia to a bear. But a bear can’t stand on a chicken coop. It is too big and heavy.”
A day earlier, Putin laid out a worldview in which Russia was being forced to protect itself from U.S. aggression. In his first public comments about the Ukraine crisis this year, he said Washington was trying to lure Moscow into war by insisting on the possibility Ukraine could join NATO.
“It’s already clear now … that fundamental Russian concerns were ignored,” Putin said on Tuesday. Describing a scenario in which Ukraine joins NATO and then attacks Russian forces, he asked: “Are we supposed to go to war with the NATO bloc? Has anyone given that any thought? Apparently not.”
Washington has said it will not send troops to Ukraine itself to shield it from a Russian attack, but would impose financial sanctions on Moscow and send arms to help Ukrainians defend themselves.
Russia, still Europe’s main energy supplier despite being under U.S. and EU sanctions since annexing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, brushes off additional sanctions as an empty threat.
Washington and its allies have rejected Russia’s two main demands – that Ukraine be barred from ever joining NATO and that deployments of troops in eastern European countries that joined the alliance after the end of the Cold War be rolled back.
Reporting by Phil Stewart and Dmitry Antonov; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Alexander Marrow, Andrew Osborn, Robin Emmott and William James; Writing by Peter Graff and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Grant McCool
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