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US, European Leaders Align Against Russian Invasion Threat

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Russia said Tuesday it is watching “with great concern” following a U.S. move to put 8,500 troops on alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated to reporters Russian accusations that the United States is escalating tensions in the crisis along the Russia-Ukraine border.

U.S. President Joe Biden met virtually Monday afternoon with key European leaders to discuss the ongoing threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“I had a very, very, very good meeting — total unanimity with all the European leaders,” Biden told reporters after hosting a secure video call with allied leaders from Europe, the European Union and NATO.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office released a statement that supported Biden’s summation, saying, “The leaders agreed on the importance of international unity in the face of growing Russian hostility.”

Biden has not decided whether to move U.S. military equipment and personnel closer to Russia. But White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in advance of the meeting with the European officials that the United States has “always said we’d support allies on the eastern flank” abutting Russia.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin placed 8,500 U.S. military personnel on “high alert” of being dispatched to Eastern Europe, where most of them could be activated as part of a NATO response force if Russia invades Ukraine.

FILE - U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin pauses while speaking during a media briefing at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Virginia, Nov. 17, 2021.
FILE – U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin pauses while speaking during a media briefing at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Virginia, Nov. 17, 2021.

“It’s very clear the Russians have no intention right now of de-escalating,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters. “What this is about, though, is reassurance to our NATO allies.”

The White House released a statement after the meeting that said, “The leaders also discussed their joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine,

including preparations to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia for such actions as well as to reinforce security on NATO’s eastern flank.”

Biden has ruled out sending troops to Ukraine if Russia invades the onetime Soviet republic but vowed to impose quick and severe economic sanctions on Moscow.

Kirby said the U.S. military is “keenly focused” on the Russian military’s 127,000-troop buildup along the Ukraine border and in Belarus. He said the United States was “taking steps to heighten readiness over Ukraine,” including for a NATO response force if the Western military forces are activated.

FILE - Ukrainian soldiers stand on a check-point close to the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels, Mariupol, Donetsk region, Jan. 21, 2022.
FILE – Ukrainian soldiers stand on a check-point close to the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels, Mariupol, Donetsk region, Jan. 21, 2022.

U.S. and Russian officials have had four face-to-face meetings in the past two weeks over Western concerns about the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine and Russian fears of NATO operations in Eastern Europe, and Biden has also talked directly with European allies.

Russia insists the troops are on the border for its own protection but is demanding NATO provide guarantees it will stop its eastward expansion, beginning with not allowing Ukraine to join the alliance, a move Moscow perceives as a threat. NATO has repeatedly rejected that request, saying Russia has no veto over NATO membership for other countries.

The United States and Russia are planning to exchange written statements this week about their demands of each other.

VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell contributed to this report. Some information also came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters./VOA

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