The United States placed on "heightened alert" 8,500 soldiers in preparation for possible deployment to Eastern Europe amid the rise in tensions with Russia over its military moves vis-a-vis Ukraine, and the Joe Biden administration called on US citizens to leave Ukraine immediately.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at a press conference that the troops had been put on heightened alert although no decision had yet been made to deploy them to Eastern Europe.
Kirby said that the alert enables the military units, most of them land-based units, to be able to get ready for deployment in less time if Russia decides to invade Ukraine.
There is no indication that the US intends to use the alerted units, or any other units, in combat operations to help Ukraine fend off a Russian attack.
In fact, Kirby said that the troops were not actually being deployed right now and that the US was not saying that the diplomatic route to resolving the Russia-Ukraine dispute is "dead," but he added that the heightened alert cuts the amount of preparation time for the affected units to deploy from 10 to five days.
The Pentagon spokesman emphasized that the "bulk" of the US troops would be deployed in countries in Eastern Europe within the NATO Response Force (NRE), and they would be activated only if the Atlantic Alliance requests it.
Kirby said that it would be up to NATO to activate that multinational forces, which includes land, aviation and maritime units with some 40,000 troops from different countries.
Nevertheless, he did not rule out a possible "unilateral" US deployment outside the NRE, although he insisted that in that case the move would only be made in coordination and after consultations with Washington's allies.
When asked about where the US deployment would occur, Kirby provided no details and said only that it would be in allied nations on NATO's "eastern flank."
He added that the US contingent would be made up of combat brigades, which would be supported by logistical, medical and aviation teams, among others.
The White House confirmed on Monday that it had discussed with Washington's European allies a possible deployment of US troops in Eastern Europe.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing that the Biden administration had consulted with US allies and laid out detailed plans for all scenarios, adding that Washington has always said that it would reinforce its allies on NATO's eastern flank and has been discussing doing exactly that in recent weeks.
"We have never ruled out the option of providing additional assistance in advance of an invasion. Those discussions have been ongoing," she said.
Biden said last week that "We're going to actually increase troop presence in Poland, in Romania, etc., if in fact (Russian President Vladimir Putin) moves," but Psaki said the president had never ruled out sending additional US troops to those countries before an invasion.
"That's been part of our contingency planning," she said.
Despite the increase in rhetoric from the US, the foreign ministers of the European Union - after discussing the matter with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken - do not foresee there to be a risk of "imminent attack" by Russia on Ukraine.
The top EU official for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, said at a press conference after the EU foreign ministers' meeting, which Blinken attended by videoconference, that there was "nothing new" that could increase fears that a Russian attack on Ukraine was imminent.
In fact, the EU members, for moment, will not echo Washington's move to withdraw non-essential personnel from its embassy in Kiev.
Psaki said that the US is convinced, however, that the time is now for embassy workers' family members and other non-essential personnel to leave Ukraine, although she added that an evacuation like the one conducted from Afghanistan was not being contemplated.
The State Department on Sunday ordered the families of US Embassy employees in the Ukrainian capital to leave that country immediately and authorized the departure of non-essential personnel given the what it suggested is the ongoing threat of Russian military action.