U.S. puts troops on high alert as Russia-Ukraine tensions escalate

It's the most acute crisis between the West and Russia since the end of the Cold War, and both sides escalated their military deployments Monday. The United States is putting troops on higher alert, NATO says it will reinforce its eastern flank, and Russia is adding to its existing 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is the most acute crisis between the West and Russia since the end of the Cold War. And, today, both sides escalated their military deployments.

    The U.S. is putting troops on higher alert. NATO says it will reinforce its eastern flank, and Russia is adding to its already 100,000 troops on Ukraine's borders.

    Nick Schifrin begins our coverage.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Moscow calls them drills, but they sound like preparations for war.

    Russia's Defense Ministry today released new video of ships and military vehicles on trains deploying toward Ukraine's border. These trucks will travel 3,700 miles from Russia's east. From the west this weekend, American weapons traveled 4,800 miles to land in Kiev. The U.S. says the additional 200,000 pounds of ammunition and other items inside these crates shows the U.S.' commitment to Ukraine.

    Simultaneously, NATO's secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, during a press conference with Swedish and Finnish defense ministers announced increased alliance support for NATO's eastern flank, heading to Southeast Europe:, Dutch F-35s and French troops under NATO command, heading to the Baltics, F-16s from Denmark, and deploying to the Black Sea, Spanish ships.

  • Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General:

    These deployments are proportionate and in line with our international commitments. And they reinforce European security for all of us.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, in a phone briefing, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov used the announcement to call NATO the aggressor.

    Dmitry Peskov, Spokesman for Vladimir Putin (through translator): We can see the statement published by NATO on an enhancement of the contingent and the deployment of forces and hardware to the eastern flank. All this leads to the further escalation of tensions.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Stoltenberg called the deployments defensive.

  • Jens Stoltenberg:

    Of course, the NATO presence is in no way threatening, because it is, compared to the significant military buildup by Russia in and around Ukraine, a very limited presence.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For years, NATO did not deploy to its Eastern European members. But since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, NATO has deployed battle groups of at least 1,200 soldiers each to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland.

    And after a telebriefing this weekend by his national security team, President Biden put 8,500 U.S.-based troops on high alert who could deploy quickly to Eastern Europe. Defense officials tell "PBS NewsHour" those forces could come from bases, including Fort Bragg, Fort Carson, and Fort Campbell, destined to the NATO Response Force, or NRF.

    Pentagon spokesman John Kirby:

  • John Kirby, Pentagon Press Secretary:

    In the event of NATO's activation of the NRF or a deteriorating security environment, the United States would be in a position to rapidly deploy additional brigade combat teams, logistics, medical, aviation, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, transportation, and additional capabilities into Europe.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    At the same time, the U.S. is drawing down its Kiev embassy. All families are required to depart, and nonessential employees can leave if they want. The United Kingdom announced the same.

    Ukraine called it disappointing.

    Foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko:

  • Oleg Nikolenko, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Spokesman (through translator):

    We consider this U.S. move as premature and a manifestation of excessive caution. In fact, there have been no cardinal changes in the security situation recently.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But the West is convinced the threat to Ukraine's government could be fatal. This weekend, the U.K. released new intelligence revealing Russia planned regime change and had picked a pro-Russian leader.

    U.S. officials tell "PBS NewsHour" the U.S. agrees with the British intelligence, which was released by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

  • Liz Truss, British Foreign Secretary:

    The reason we put that out into the public domain is, we are going to call out every instance of Russia trying to influence democracy, trying to subvert Ukraine, false flag operations, and sabotage.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Calling out Russian actions, but little is stopping Russia's buildup that surrounds Ukraine.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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