Russia’s long-feared invasion of Ukraine commenced this morning. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the North Atlantic Council, and European allies have all made strong statements condemning Russia’s “unjustified and unprovoked attack” on Ukraine. The quickly escalating situation at NATO’s doorstep has prompted a swift response. What does this mean for U.S. troops in Europe right now?
There are approximately 90,000 U.S. troops in Europe and in European waters at this time, with an additional 8,500 stateside troops currently on alert as part of the NATO Response Force, and some of these forces are already on the move to bolster security along NATO member states’ borders with Russia and Ukraine.
Stoltenberg was clear that NATO troops will not set foot in Ukraine. Troop movements are strictly of a defensive nature, projecting strength and solidarity to deter any further Russian aggression.
“NATO is the strongest alliance in history,” Stoltenberg said at his Thursday press briefing. “… And make no mistake; we will defend and protect every ally against any attack and every inch of NATO territory.”
Following Vladimir Putin’s recognition and subsequent invasion of Luhansk and Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, President Biden responded to Russia’s dubious “peacekeeping mission” by announcing that U.S. troops would be deployed to the Baltic (and NATO member) states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. President Joe Biden, however, was clear in echoing NATO’s position in his press conference on Tuesday:
“These are totally defensive moves on our part. We have no intention of fighting Russia.”
While precise locations, and in some cases the units involved, haven’t been revealed at this time, thus far, U.S. presence along NATO’s Eastern Flank already is or is soon to be composed of:
- Up to eight F-35s based in Germany moving to several possible locations further east
- 800 troops, including at least 40 “Sky Soldiers” of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy moving to the Baltics
- A battalion of 20 AH-64 Apache attack helictopers based in Germany moving to the Baltics
- Approximately 6,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division that have recently joined a force of 3,000 already positioned on Poland’s border with Western Ukraine. These troops will also assist with the expected influx of Ukrainian refugees.
- A task force of 12 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters moving from Greece to Poland
- 1,000 troops of an Army Stryker squadron joining 900 troops already stationed in Romania on Ukraine’s southwest border.
These are all the most recent measures moving military units already in Europe further east. U.S. air and naval forces are also sure to increase their focus in the region. President Biden announced there will be a summit on Friday of over thirty nations to further coordinate NATO’s strategy moving forward. It is possible this could include the vote to mobilize the 40,000-strong NATO Response Force that includes the 8,500 American troops that remain in the U.S. at this time.
More troop movement is sure to come, and the situation is obviously very fluid as Russia’s invasion continues to develop, but it is important to note that America and NATO’s stance is firmly a defensive one and beyond that, the troops’ primary role at this time will be in helping Ukrainian refugees.
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Feature image: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Adrian Patoka