Defense Dept. places 8,500 troops on ‘heightened alert’ amid Russia–Ukraine tension

Amid increasing tensions over Russian aggression toward Ukraine, the Biden administration announced Monday that the Pentagon has put 8,500 troops on “heightened alert” for potential deployment to eastern Europe, should the arise, as NBC News reports.

Defense Department spokesperson John Kirby indicated during a press conference that “as of now, the decision has been made to put these units on higher alert and higher alert only. No decisions have been made to deploy forces from the United States at this time.”

Concerns have continued to mount in recent weeks as Russia has mobilized an estimated 100,000 troops near the border with Ukraine, and given that attempts at a diplomatic solution have thus far failed to bear fruit, Western nations have continued to consider deterrence strategies.

As Fox News noted, NATO indicated on Monday that it would be dispatching ships and fighter jets to eastern Europe, and the British Embassy in Kyiv revealed that it would be removing a number of staffers from the country’s post in Ukraine.

The U.S. State Department also informed families of American embassy staff that they should make preparations to leave as well, though a Ukraine foreign ministry spokesperson branded the move “premature” and “excessive.”

Also on Monday, Biden participated in a video conference with European allies that included leaders from NATO, the European Commission, European Council, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, and the U.K., which lasted nearly 90 minutes, according to ABC News.

Following the call, the White House stated that members of the group “reiterated their continued concern about the Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders” and deliberated over “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.”

Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that senior Defense Department officials offered Biden a series of options regarding U.S. troop movement toward eastern Europe, one of which would involve deploying up to 5,000 Americans nearer to Russia, according to ABC News, but it appears – at least for now – that a move of that nature remains off the table.

Though the tack ultimately taken by the White House remains to be seen, former House speaker Newt Gingrich aptly noted on Monday that “everybody is watching to see what the United States does. If we flinch, and if we convince the dictators that we can be pushed around, they are going to push very hard because Biden may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rip off our allies and have nothing done,”