T-72B3 tanks of the Russian Southern Military District’s 150th Rifle Division take part in a military exercise at Kadamovsky Range. The division’s units will work out a wide range of tasks including organization of overall support for tactical exercises as part of battalion tactical groups during the exercise. Erik Romanenko | TASS | Getty Images
WASHINGTON – The U.K. is considering doubling its troop numbers and sending defensive weapons to Estonia, a fellow NATO member country, as security conditions on Ukraine’s border with Russia deteriorate.
U.K. officials are expected to visit NATO’s headquarters next week to finalize details of the proposed security package proposal, which will include additional troops, fighter jets and warships.
The British Embassy in Washington said Johnson is slated to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week and will travel to the region in the coming days. U.K. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is also expected to meet with NATO allies in Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia this week.
“This package would send a clear message to the Kremlin – we will not tolerate their destabilizing activity, and we will always stand with our NATO allies in the face of Russian hostility,” U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote in a Sunday evening statement.
“If President Putin chooses a path of bloodshed and destruction, it will be a tragedy for Europe. Ukraine must be free to choose its own future,” he added.
The U.K. currently has more than 900 British military personnel based in Estonia, more than 100 troops in Ukraine and approximately 150 soldiers in Poland.
The HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carrier is currently on standby to move within hours should tensions rise further.
Last week, the U.S. Pentagon placed 8,500 U.S. servicemembers on “heightened alert” to deploy to Europe should NATO activate a response force. The troops represent America’s contribution to the 40,000-strong NATO Response Force, or NRF, whose activation requires approval of all 30 NATO members.
U.S. President Joe Biden has not committed to sending U.S. combat troops directly to Ukraine but instead to neighboring NATO countries.
For months, the West has watched a steady build-up of Kremlin forces along Ukraine’s border with Russia and Belarus. The increased military presence mimics Russian moves ahead of its 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea, which sparked an international uproar and triggered a series of sanctions against Moscow.
The Kremlin has denied that the troop deployment is a prelude to an attack and has instead characterized the movement as a military exercise.
The Pentagon’s top officials warned Friday that the aftermath of a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be “horrific.”
“Given the type of forces that are arrayed, the ground maneuver forces, the artillery, the ballistic missiles, the air forces, all of it packaged together. If that was unleashed on Ukraine, it would be significant, very significant, and it would result in a significant amount of casualties and you can you imagine what that might look like in dense urban areas, all along roads, and so on and so forth,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley said.
“It would be horrific,” added Milley, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer.
Milley said that Russia’s posture along Ukraine’s border was unlike anything he has seen during his four-decade military career. He said the Russians have deployed air forces, naval forces, special forces, cyber electronic warfare, command and control, logistics engineers and other capabilities along Ukraine’s border.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who spoke alongside Milley, called on Moscow to de-escalate tensions by removing Russian troops and military equipment from its shared border.
“Conflict is not inevitable. There is still time and space for diplomacy,” Austin said.
“He [Putin] can choose to de-escalate. He can order his troops away. He can choose dialogue and diplomacy. Whatever he decides, the United States will stand with our allies and partners.”
The Pentagon’s warnings came as Russian President Putin reviewed U.S. diplomatic and security proposals that were hand-delivered by John Sullivan, the American ambassador to Russia. Russia initially offered a chilly response to the proposals.
“So we will await what the Russian government’s reaction and assessment is to our written responses,” Sullivan told reporters on Friday from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. “And then as Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted, I would expect that there would be a discussion or perhaps a meeting. But I don’t know that hasn’t been agreed to.”
Russia has demanded that the U.S. “shall not establish military bases” in the territories of any former Soviet states that are not already members of NATO, or “use their infrastructure for any military activities or develop bilateral military cooperation with them.”
Russian officials have also called on the U.S. to prevent an eastward expansion of the NATO military alliance.
Since 2002, Kyiv has sought entry into NATO, the world’s most powerful military alliance.
The U.S. and NATO have said that such a request cannot be accommodated.
Last week, Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the second call this month, to reaffirm Washington’s commitment to respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine.
The president also told Zelenskyy on Thursday that the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv remains open and fully operational after the State Department issued an order for eligible family members of personnel at its embassy in Kyiv to leave.
The State Department also recommended on Sunday that all U.S. citizens in Ukraine depart the country immediately, citing Russia’s continued military buildup on the border.