Updated February 5, 2022 2:55 PM ET
The first of 2,000 newly deployed US troops in Europe have arrived in Germany and Poland, military officials said, as part of US efforts to bolster NATO’s eastern flank as Russia gathers even more forces on along the Ukrainian borders.
Troops arriving in Germany are 300 members of the 18th Airborne Corps, who will help support Joint Task Force headquarters operations there. Both units are based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
And in Poland, US Army officers – including Major General Christopher Donahue, the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division who was the last American soldier to leave Afghanistan – arrived early Saturday at Rzeszow-Jasionka airport in the southeast of the country, about 80 km from the Ukrainian border.
About 1,700 members of a combat team from the 82nd Airborne Infantry Brigade, a paratrooper unit, are expected to arrive in Poland over the weekend.
President Biden ordered the deployments on Wednesday. A thousand additional troops stationed in Germany will be relocated east to Romania, which also shares a border with western Ukraine.
About 70,000 American soldiers are permanently stationed in Europe. On top of that, an additional 7,000 troops are being deployed on a rotational basis across the continent as part of a NATO support mission called Atlantic Resolve. Equipment arrived at a port in Poland on Friday as part of these rotations, including dozens of Stryker armored vehicles. At home in the United States, an additional 8,500 troops remain under “prepare to deploy” orders on high alert.
Biden and other US officials have said no US soldiers will participate in the fighting in Ukraine.
Russia has moved thousands more troops to the border in recent weeks
The US deployments come as new satellite images show the extent of Russian military buildup along Ukraine’s borders. It is estimated that more than 100,000 Russian troops are deployed in Belarus, western Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, the disputed territory seized by Russia from Ukraine in 2014.
The most significant development shown in the new footage is that many Russian deployment sites now include tents, the presence of which suggests soldiers have arrived or will soon arrive, increasing their combat readiness.
Sources monitoring Ukraine told NPR that the number of Russian battalion tactical groups on the country’s borders has risen to 83 from 60 just two weeks ago. 14 others are in transit. Each battalion has up to 1,000 soldiers. Russia has also increased its naval power, with amphibious landing ships and other warships gathering in the Black Sea.
For months, Ukrainian officials have publicly downplayed the danger of an impending invasion – even as late as Wednesday. “At the moment, according to the assessment of Ukraine and its partners, this number and composition of forces is not sufficient for a full-scale invasion,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said during a briefing. a briefing.
But US officials have taken a somewhat different line in recent days. About a week ago, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters that Russian forces might be enough to invade all of Ukraine.
“[Russian President Vladimir Putin] Clearly provides many options, much more capabilities. For what purpose exactly? We don’t know at this time,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. at a press conference this week. “And because we don’t know exactly what its purpose is, we want to make sure we’re ready on the NATO front to defend our allies.”
A full-scale invasion is likely to take place before the end of March, experts say. The frozen ground in winter makes the terrain more passable for the cross-country movement of large forces; in the spring, these roads will be muddy, swampy and more difficult to maneuver.
The schedule has put pressure on world leaders to find a diplomatic end to the crisis, and the week ahead contains another round of high-level meetings.
French President Emmanuel Macron is due to meet Putin on Monday before traveling to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is doing the same trick later in the week after visiting the White House to meet President Biden.
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