As of: 01/28/2022 9:54 p.m
According to US estimates, Russia has enough troops on the border with Ukraine for an offensive. However, the Pentagon still does not assume that an attack has been decided. Meanwhile, NATO is arming itself in the Baltic States.
The US government is convinced that Russian President Vladimir Putin has now assembled sufficient military forces for a possible attack on Ukraine. “We do not believe that President Putin has made the final decision to use these forces against Ukraine,” said US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
“But he clearly has that ability now. And he has multiple options available to him, including taking cities and major territories,” Austin said. “Provocative political actions” such as the recognition of breakaway areas are also conceivable.
“Conflict is not inevitable”
Austin and Chief of Staff Mark Milley called on Putin to de-escalate. “We believe a diplomatic solution is the way to go here,” Milley said. The US Secretary of Defense also campaigned for a peaceful solution to the conflict. “Conflict is not inevitable, there is still time and space for diplomacy,” Austin said.
Milley warned of numerous civilian casualties in Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion. “Throughout Ukraine there are many people and very densely populated centers,” he said. “And if war should break out on the scale that is possible, civilians will suffer extremely.” Should the assembled Russian forces attack Ukraine, it “would result in a significant number of casualties. And you can imagine what that would be like in dense urban areas, along roads and so on and so forth. It would be horrific if it would be terrible.”
US soldiers on high alert
Milley said Russia had massed more than 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine. An attack could therefore take place “with very, very little warning”. Austin said the 8,500 US troops who have been placed on high alert because of the conflict have not yet received orders to march. But: “The President has made it clear that no troops will be deployed in Ukraine for combat purposes,” said Austin.
On Biden’s orders, 8,500 soldiers in the United States had previously been put on increased readiness to enable rapid transfer to NATO countries in Europe if necessary. Biden had stressed that this was not a provocation, but a precautionary measure to address the concerns of Eastern European NATO members.
The United States also asked Hungary to station troops temporarily, the Hungarian Foreign Ministry said. The Hungarian Defense Ministry is holding talks on this issue, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said at a press conference. The request will now be checked there, it said.
Denmark and USA relocate fighter jets
Four F-16 fighter jets from the Danish Air Force have also arrived in Lithuania to strengthen NATO air surveillance over the Baltic States. Together with four Polish machines, they are supposed to control the skies over the EU and NATO member states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from the Lithuanian military airport in Siauliai.
“Today we are witnessing a great example of the unity and solidarity of the Allies,” said Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda when welcoming the Danish pilots at the military airport. “It’s really gratifying to see how our allies — our friends from Denmark — are responding to the first signs of concern on NATO’s eastern flank,” Nauseda said.
Four jets and a frigate
The NATO countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania bordering Russia do not have their own fighter jets. That is why the allies have been securing the Baltic airspace in regular rotation since 2004 as part of the “NATO Air Policing Baltic States”. Usually only four fighter jets patrol from Siauliai in the Baltic airspace – together with four aircraft based in Estonia.
In view of the strong tensions with Russia and the deployment of troops on the borders with Ukraine, Denmark had announced that it would send four fighter jets and a frigate to the Baltic Sea.
Germany is considering a stronger military presence
The United States had previously deployed fighter jets to the region. According to the Estonian army, six F-15C Eagle fighter jets have landed at the Ämari military base for training purposes. The main objective of the squadron is to support the Belgian Air Force in patrolling the Baltic airspace.
Germany is also considering expanding its military presence as part of the NATO mission in Lithuania, as Nauseda previously announced. Both countries are in talks about this, said Nauseda. This is happening “in the course of current events”.
Stoltenberg: Russia is continuing to deploy troops
According to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Russia is continuing to deploy troops despite all calls for de-escalation. “Russia is moving more troops, more heavy equipment, and now thousands of combat troops to Belarus,” Stoltenberg said at an online event hosted by the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington. “So the upgrade continues.”
However, there is no certainty that Putin is actually planning an invasion of Ukraine. “On the NATO side, we are ready to conduct a political dialogue, but we are also ready to react if Russia decides on an armed confrontation,” Stoltenberg said. “We are working hard for the best peaceful political solution, but we are also prepared for the worst.” Stoltenberg confirmed that NATO does not intend to send combat-ready soldiers to Ukraine.
Invasion would have “severe consequences”
An invasion of Ukraine would have “serious consequences” for Russia, according to Stoltenberg. The NATO allies are prepared to impose tough economic and political sanctions in the event of a military escalation.
However, NATO is preparing for various variants of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. A full-scale invasion could follow the concentration of troops in Russia near the Ukrainian border and in Belarus. A cyber attack, an attempted coup d’etat and sabotage are also possible. “We have to be prepared for a wide range of different forms of aggression,” said Stoltenberg.