T-72B3 tanks from the 150th Rifle Division of the Russian Southern Military District participate in a military exercise at the Kadamovsky Range. The division’s units will work with a wide range of tasks, including the organization of overall support for tactical exercises as part of the battalion’s tactical groups during the exercise.
Erik Romanenko | TASS | Getty Images
WASHINGTON – Britain is considering doubling its troop numbers and sending defensive weapons to Estonia, another NATO member state, as security conditions at Ukraine’s border with Russia deteriorate.
British officials are expected to visit NATO headquarters next week to finalize the details of the proposed security package proposal, which will include additional troops, fighter jets and warships.
The British embassy in Washington said Johnson is scheduled to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week and will travel to the region in the coming days. British Defense 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,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement on Sunday night.
“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.
Britain currently has more than 900 British military personnel based in Estonia, more than 100 soldiers in Ukraine and about 150 soldiers in Poland.
The HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carrier is currently on standby to move within a few hours if tensions rise further.
Last week, the US Pentagon put 8,500 US service members on “heightened alert” to deploy to Europe if NATO were to activate a response force. The troops represent America’s contribution to the 40,000-strong NATO Response Force, or NRF, whose activation requires the approval of all 30 NATO members.
US President Joe Biden has not committed to sending US combat troops directly to Ukraine, but instead to NATO’s neighbors.
For months, the West has seen a steady build-up of Kremlin forces along Ukraine’s border with Russia and Belarus. The increased military presence mimics Russian movements ahead of its illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, a Black Sea peninsula that sparked an international uprising and 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.
Pentagon senior officials warned Friday that the consequences of a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be “terrible.”
“Given the type of forces lined up, the ground maneuvering forces, the artillery, the ballistic missiles, the air forces, all packed together. If it were unleashed on Ukraine, it would be significant, very significant, and it would result in a significant amount of casualties and you can imagine what it could look like in dense urban areas, along roads, and so on and so forth, “said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Army, General Mark Milley.
“It would be awful,” added Milley, the country’s highest-ranking military officer.
Milley said Russia’s stance 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, electronic cyber warfare, command and control, logistics engineers and other capabilities along Ukraine’s border.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who spoke with Milley, called on Moscow to de-escalate tensions by removing Russian troops and military equipment from its common border.
“Conflict is not inevitable. There is still time and space for diplomacy,” Austin said.
“He [Putin] can choose to de-scale. 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 US diplomatic and security proposals, which were delivered by John Sullivan, the US ambassador to Russia. Russia initially offered a cool response to the proposals.
“So we will wait and see what the Russian government’s reaction and assessment is to our written response,” Sullivan told reporters Friday from the US embassy in Moscow. “And so as Foreign Minister Antony Blinken remarked, I would expect there to be a discussion or maybe a meeting. But I do not know that it has not been agreed.”
Russia has demanded that the United States “not establish military bases” in the territories of any former Soviet states that are not already members of NATO, or “use their infrastructure for military activities or develop bilateral military cooperation with them.”
Russian officials have also called on the United States to prevent an expansion to the east of NATO’s military alliance.
Since 2002, Kyiv has sought membership in NATO, the world’s most powerful military alliance.
The United States and NATO have stated that such a request could not be granted.
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 Kiev remains open and fully operational after the State Department issued an order to eligible family members of staff at its embassy in Kiev to leave.
The State Department also recommended on Sunday that all U.S. citizens in Ukraine leave the country immediately, citing Russia’s continued military build-up at the border.