Latest Ukraine updates: US to deploy troops to Eastern Europe

Ukraine news from February 2: Washington to move 3,000 soldiers to Poland, Romania and Germany as tensions simmer.

President Joe Biden returns a salute as he walks by the Marine Barracks in Washington, DC
The US deployments are above and beyond the 8,500 troops the Pentagon put on alert last month to be ready to deploy to Europe if needed [File: Andrew Harnik/AP]

US President Joe Biden has approved sending additional forces to Eastern Europe as Washington moves to avert a feared Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said on Wednesday that troops would soon be moved to Poland, Romania and Germany in response to the “current security climate”.

He told a news briefing that 1,000 forces currently based in Germany would be repositioned to Romania and 2,000 troops would be deployed from the United States to Poland and Germany.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko denounced the step as “destructive”.

The US’ announcement came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday accused the West of trying to provoke Moscow into a war.

In his first comments on the Ukraine crisis in more than a month, Putin also reiterated Russia’s security demands and said it was clear that the Kremlin’s “fundamental concerns” had been ignored by Washington and NATO.

The live blog is now closed, thank you for joining us. Here are the updates for February 2.

US: Russia is turning reality upside down

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price has rejected Moscow’s assertion that Washington is escalating tensions by sending additional troops to Europe, accusing Russia of attempting to turn “reality upside down”.

“These are not permanent moves; they are precisely in response to the current security environment in light of this increasingly threatening behaviour by the Russian Federation,” Price told reporters.

France’s Macron says will discuss Ukraine crisis with Biden

French President Emmanuel Macron says he will discuss the Ukraine crisis with Biden by phone in the coming hours.

Macron made the comments as he arrived for an informal meeting of EU interior ministers in Tourcoing in northern France.

“I will in the coming hours speak with President Biden”, Macron said, adding that depending “on progress in our discussions in the coming hours,” he could not rule out traveling to Russia for talks with Putin.

Moscow slams US troop announcement as ‘destructive’

Moscow has denounced the US’s troop deployment announcement as “destructive”.

“Not substantiated by anyone, destructive steps which increase military tension and reduce scope for political decisions,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told the Interfax news agency.

Johnson tells Putin Ukraine incursion would be a ‘tragic miscalculation’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told Putin that any incursion into Ukraine would be a “tragic miscalculation”.

“The prime minister expressed his deep concern about Russia’s current hostile activity on the Ukrainian border,” a spokesman for Johnson said following the latter’s talks by phone with the Russian leader.

“He emphasised the need to find a way forward which respects both Ukraine’s territorial integrity and right to self defence. The prime minister stressed that any further Russian incursion into Ukrainian territory would be a tragic miscalculation,” the spokesman added.

Boris - Putin
Johnson expressed his deep concern about Russia’s current hostile activity during his call with Putin, according to the British PM’s office [File: Reuters]

Ukraine: No imminent threat of Russian invasion

Ukraine does not believe it is at risk of an imminent full-scale invasion by Russia, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said, but is “preparing for all scenarios”.

Urging the country’s Western allies to “remain rational” in their presentation of the current risk posed, Kuleba said that the build-up of Russian troops near its border with Ukraine is the most pressing concern for Kyiv.

NATO chief welcomes US troops deployments

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has welcomed the US decision to deploy additional forces to Germany, Poland and Romania.

“This is a powerful signal of US commitment, and comes on top of other recent US contributions to our shared security – including 8,500 troops at high readiness for the NATO Response Force, and the USS Harry S Truman carrier strike group under NATO command in the Mediterranean,” Stoltenberg said in a statement.

“Our deployments are defensive and proportional, and send the clear message that NATO will do whatever is necessary to protect and defend all Allies,” he added.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a news conference
Stoltenberg described the US troop deployment announcement as a ‘powerful signal’ of Washington’s commitment to NATO [File: AP]

US to deploy more troops to Eastern Europe

The United States is sending 2,000 additional soldiers to Europe and repositioning another 1,000 from Germany to Romania to ensure the “robust defence” of European NATO members, the Pentagon has said.

John Kirby told reporters that the troop deployment would take place in the coming days. He said it is separate from, and in addition to, the 8,500 soldiers that the Pentagon put on heightened alert last week.

Read more here.

A US instructor trains Ukrainian soldier
A US instructor trains Ukrainian soldiers western Ukraine last month [File: Ukrainian Defence Ministry Press Service via AP]

UK says it intercepted and escorted four Russian bombers

The United Kingdom intercepted and escorted four Russian bomber aircraft approaching its area of interest, a Royal Air Force spokesman has said.

“Quick Reaction Alert Typhoon fighters based at RAF Lossiemouth supported by a Voyager from RAF Brize Norton were scrambled today against unidentified aircraft approaching the UK area of interest. Subsequently, we intercepted and escorted four Russian Bear aircraft,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement.

The aircraft did not enter the UK’s sovereign air space.

US troops ‘not going to fight in Ukraine’, Kirby says

Kirby stressed the US troops being deployed to Eastern Europe are “not going to fight in Ukraine”.

“They [the military movements] are not permanent moves. They respond to current conditions,” he added.

Both Romania and Poland border Ukraine.

Russian legislator slams ‘destructive’ US step

Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Moscow, said the first deputy chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s State Duma, Dmitry Novikov, had quickly denounced Washington’s decision to shift troops to Eastern Europe.

“He’s saying that this is an absolutely destructive step and that it will complicate the situation,” Jabbari said.

“He also went on to say that these actions can be qualified as an attempt to hack the fragile negotiation process that is ongoing regarding the security guarantees Moscow is looking for from the Americans,” she added. “So it appears that the Russians are already seeing this as a step backwards.”

INTERACTIVE- Conflict between Ukraine and Russia at a glance

Social media posts call on Russians to join separatist forces

As the crisis shows no sign of easing, Russian volunteers are being sought to reinforce separatist forces in eastern Ukraine over social media networking sites.

Read more here.

Diplomacy is deterring Russian attack but worst case not avoided yet, Kyiv says

Energetic diplomacy is helping to avert the threat of a Russian military offensive against Ukraine but the worst-case scenario has not been avoided yet, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba says.

Kuleba told an online briefing that Moscow had not yet massed enough forces to mount a full-scale invasion and that Ukraine and the US were aligned in their assessments of the threat of a Russian offensive.

Russia increasing force readiness near Ukraine, US satellite company says

New satellite images suggest Russia has bolstered the overall readiness of its military deployments in Belarus, Crimea and western Russia by bringing in more personnel and troops, a private US satellite imagery company has said.

Maxar Technologies said in a statement that the images were taken from January 19 to February 1. It noted that while Russia had deployed military equipment and units near Ukraine over the past couple of months, in many cases few troops or new accommodation units for additional personnel had been observed.

But the new images showed fresh and significant deployments in Belarus and more personnel at various military sites, Maxar’s statement said.

“Troop tents/shelters for personnel have been seen at virtually every deployment location in Belarus, Crimea and western Russia which suggests that the units are now accompanied with troops and have increased their overall readiness level,” Maxar said. “Moreover, local military training activity (including live-fire artillery and manoeuvre training) has been observed in progress at numerous training areas.”

Elderly Ukrainians: ‘I was born in a war and will die in war’

Some of the 900,000 pensioners living on the front line of a years-long war in eastern Ukraine fear they will not see a resolution to the conflict in their lifetime.

“At least with World War II, things were over quickly. This war lingers and is now in its eighth year; we can only hope that everything will be over soon,” Maria, an 86-year-old grandmother in Orikhove, told Al Jazeera.

Read more here.

US troops to deploy to Eastern Europe in coming days: Reports

The Pentagon is expected to imminently announce that US troops will be sent to Eastern Europe in the coming days after Biden formally approved additional military deployments to the region, an unnamed US official has told Reuters.

Biden has directed more than 3,000 US troops to deploy to bolster European allies, the Wall Street Journal reported.

About 2,000 American troops will deploy from the US to Poland and Germany and about 1,000 will reposition from Germany to Romania, the Journal said.

‘Every effort must now be made to de-escalate’

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says he and Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have agreed “every effort must now be made to de-escalate the dangerous situation in which we find ourselves”.

“And I believe, we believe that the only route to a solution is through de-escalation, diplomacy and dialogue,” the Dutch PM told reporters following the pair’s meeting in Kyiv.

Further Russian aggression against Ukraine will trigger a “robust” package of Western sanctions, Rutte said, adding that the Netherlands, a NATO member, had offered assistance to Kyiv to fend off cyberattacks.

Kyiv focused ‘only on peace’: Zelenskyy

Ukraine’s president says Kyiv is focused “only on peace” but that his country has the right to defend itself in the event of any attack from Russia.

“Our only concern is peace and ending the occupation of territory through purely diplomatic means,” he said at a press conference alongside Rutte following the pair’s talks, citing Kyiv’s battle with separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Zelenskyy added that arms delivered to Ukraine by its Western allies were for “defence” only. Moscow has repeatedly raised the alarm over the weapons being supplied to its neighbour.

UK stands ‘shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine’, PM says

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says his trip to Kyiv was a show of support for Ukraine and its “territorial integrity of Ukraine at a very difficult time”.

“The mission … was to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine, for our country to show that we stand with the people of Ukraine,” he told the United Kingdom’s Parliament.

Timeline: Ukraine’s turbulent history since independence in 1991

Ukraine has faced significant challenges in the decades that have followed its independence from Moscow.

For a timeline of developments, click here.

INTERACTIVE- Ukraine/Russia Political Leadership since 1991 graphic

French FM casts doubt on Russian military readiness

There are no indications at this stage to suggest that Russia is ready to take military action in Ukraine, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said.

Le Drian’s remarks to France 2 Television came after Zelenskyy last week urged the West not to create “panic” over Russia’s military buildup.

Zelenskyy told reporters the “destabilisation of the situation inside the country” was the biggest threat to Ukraine and said that warnings of an imminent invasion were putting its economy at risk.

Sweden boosts Ukraine aid

Sweden says it will give Ukraine an extra 50 million Swedish crowns ($5.4m) of aid over three years to support economic development, dialogue and general resilience in the country’s south and east.

The money, which is an addition to the 240 million crowns ($26m) Ukraine already receives annually from Sweden for the reform of civil society, will go into the Partnership Fund for Resilient Ukraine, launched with the United Kingdom, Switzerland and the United States.

“This fund is going to contribute to strengthen Ukraine’s resilience,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde said in a statement. “It will be able to answer quickly and flexibly the needs that develop and which have materialised as a result of Russian aggression since 2014.”

Kyiv mayor Klitschko pledges to ‘defend’ city if Russia invades

Kyiv mayor Vitaly Klitschko, a former world heavyweight champion boxer, has said he will “defend” the city should Russia invade Ukraine.

“We have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. We hope it does not happen,” Klitschko told reporters. “But if aggressors come to our country we don’t have any choice, we have to defend our city, our country, our future.”

Russian civil society figures pen open letter denouncing ‘party of war’

A group of more than 100 prominent Russian activists, authors and academics have signed an open letter decrying the “party of war” in Russia’s government.

The letter, published on the website of the independent radio station Echo of Moscow, did not specifically name any party but warned that Russia “does not need a war with Ukraine and the West”.

It said that “nobody” was threatening or attacking the country and accused state-run media of bias towards a belligerent point-of-view. The letter added that the idea of a conflict was “immoral, irresponsible, and criminal, and cannot be implemented on behalf of Russia’s peoples”.

United Russia, which is pro-Putin, is the largest party in Russia. The Russian president helped found the party but is not a member.

Kremlin says Putin ready to talk with the ‘utterly confused’ before Johnson call

The Kremlin says Putin is ready to talk to anyone, including the “utterly confused”, before a scheduled call between the Russian leader and the United Kingdom’s Johnson.

The British PM on Tuesday accused Moscow of holding a gun to Kyiv’s head in a bid to bully the West into redrawing the post-Cold War security map of Europe.

UK diplomacy ‘worthless’: Russian official

A senior Russian official at the United Nations has slammed British diplomacy, branding it “absolutely worthless” as tensions between Russia and the West rise.

“There is always room for diplomacy, but frankly, we don’t trust British diplomacy,” Dmitry Polyanskiy, Moscow’s deputy ambassador to the UN, told Sky News in an interview.

His remarks came hours before Johnson was scheduled to have a call with Putin. On Tuesday, the UK leader said his government has a package of measures, including sanctions, ready to go “the moment the first Russian toecap crosses further into Ukrainian territory”.

US, Turkish advisers discuss ‘Russian aggression’

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Ibrahim Kalin, chief adviser to the president of Turkey, have discussed their commitment to “deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine”, the White House says in a statement.

Turkish state broadcaster TRT Haber said Kalin told Sullivan that Turkey would provide “all forms of support” to resolving the Ukraine crisis and that Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Kyiv on Thursday would “contribute to solving the issue with diplomacy”.

Ankara offered in November to mediate in the crisis. Turkey is a maritime neighbour of both Ukraine and Russia, in the Black Sea, and has good ties with both. It has called on them to avoid any military conflict and warned Russia that an invasion of Ukraine would be unwise.

Russian rouble nears two-week high vs the dollar

The rouble has strengthened to a nearly two-week high, moving close to 76 against the dollar.

The Russian currency is moving away from a near 15-month low of 80.4125 versus the greenback hit last week when it was battered by the tensions over Ukraine and Western threats to impose new sanctions on Moscow if it makes an incursion.

By 09:41 GMT, the rouble was 0.6 percent stronger against the dollar at 76.32, having earlier touched 76.25, its strongest point since January 20. Meanwhile, it had gained 0.4 percent versus the euro at 86.09, nearly its strongest level in three weeks.

Yamal-Europe Russian gas link at a halt

Natural gas supplies between Poland and Germany via the Russian Yamal-Europe pipeline have come to a halt, data from the German network operator Gascade shows, dashing expectations it was about to pump gas west for the first time since December.

The Yamal pipeline, which typically flows west into Germany, has been in reverse mode in recent weeks with supplies flowing east to Poland since December 21.

It was expected to revert to its normal mode of exporting west after Gazprom booked transit capacity for eight hours, starting from 21:00 GMT on Tuesday.

But Gascade’s website showed the pipeline was at a standstill in both directions after about an hour of western flows earlier on Wednesday. Gas prices rose in response.

Security fencing around the Nord Stream 2 gas receiving station in Lubmin, Germany
The European Union depends on Russia for about one-third of its gas supplies [File: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies