Joe Biden, the US president, was preparing to send thousands of US troops to eastern Europe and the Baltic states on Monday to deter a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Amid growing tension, the Pentagon announced that 8,500 US-based soldiers were on "heightened alert" for deployment in the region after weeks of restraint.
In a video conference call with European leaders, Mr Biden discussed the possible mobilisation of thousands of troops to Nato member states bordering Russia, with a further 45,000 on standby if the situation continues to deteriorate.
Nato ramped up its response to Russian aggression, sending warships and fighter aircraft to shore up its eastern flank .
Jens Stoltenberg, Nato's secretary-general, said more troops could also soon be deployed to countries near Ukraine.
The additional battlegroups would be unlikely to enter Ukraine in an event of a Russian invasion, but protect Nato members on its fringes.
In a marked shift in strategy, the US said it was prepared to boost 4,600 Nato troops already in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland before any further Russian activity. Previously, the US had threatened to mobilise only if Russian troops crossed into Ukraine.
"It's clear Russia has no intention of de-escalating," said John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman.
"We would like to deter Vladimir Putin from an incursion. We want to bolster the solidarity of the [Nato] alliance."
The final decision on deploying the troops had yet to be taken, Mr Kirby added, saying that the orders simply reduced the time needed to get them into the field.
Earlier in the day, Boris Johnson warned Vladimir Putin that an invasion of Ukraine would be a "painful, violent and bloody business" for Russian troops.
On Monday, the Foreign Office withdrew some embassy staff from Ukraine in readiness for a conflict that Mr Johnson said would be "disastrous".
But senior government sources said that in contrast to the US position, Britain was currently planning only to send troops if Russia invaded.
The White House conference call included Mr Johnson; Emmanuel Macron, the French president; Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor; Mario Draghi, the Italian prime minister; Andrzej Duda, the Polish president; and European Union leaders, as well as Nato's secretary-general.
It signalled a new get-tough response to the estimated 127,000 Russian troops now massed on Ukraine's borders.
The call, set up in the White House's Situation Room – underlining the gravity of the crisis – took place at 8pm, with US officials stating the leaders discussed “joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine, including preparations to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia for such actions as well as to reinforce security on NATO's eastern flank”.
Following the call, Downing Street said: “The leaders agreed that, should a further Russian incursion into Ukraine happen, allies must enact swift retributive responses including an unprecedented package of sanctions.”
Having failed to reach agreement on the Kremlin's demand that Ukraine must never be allowed to join Nato and other concessions, the Biden administration was reported to be identifying "specific military units" to send to eastern Europe and "writing up the military orders in an effort to deter Russia".
Mr Biden has been wary of committing troops after the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan .
However, he is now weighing up a move that would draw fury from the Kremlin, which is demanding Nato troops withdraw from its borders.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said: "We’ve never ruled out providing additional assistance to eastern flank countries in advance of any [Russian] invasion.
"It’s important to remember who the aggressor is, it’s not the US or eastern flank countries, it’s Russia – they have the power to de-escalate."
Mr Johnson said on Monday that “gloomy” intelligence suggested Russia was planning a lightning raid on Kyiv, prompting the order for British embassy staff and their families to begin leaving the Ukrainian capital.
The Prime Minister said: “The intelligence is very clear that there are 60 Russian battle groups on the borders of Ukraine, the plan for a lightning war that could take out Kyiv is one that everybody can see.
"We need to make it very clear to the Kremlin, to Russia, that that would be a disastrous step."
He warned that the people of Ukraine would resist any invasion and "from a Russian perspective, [it] is going to be a painful, violent and bloody business", he said, adding: "I think it’s very important that people in Russia understand that this could be a new Chechnya."
Reflecting on Mr Biden's misspoken suggestion that a "minor incursion" may result in a more measured response by the US and its allies, Mr Johnson said: "Any incursion, of any kind, of any dimension, into Ukraine is not going to be a cost-free business,” adding: “There will be casualties."
Downing Street has ruled out combat troops being sent by Britain to defend Ukraine, although a source close to Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, said she was "taking a muscular stance on Russia" , adding: "She is determined not to repeat the mistakes of Crimea in 2014, where the UK was too absent."
As part of Nato's commitment to send troops to the region, Denmark is deploying F-15 warplanes to Lithuania, Spain is sending three vessels to join Nato's naval forces and four fighter jets to Bulgaria while France said it stands ready to send troops to Romania.
The Netherlands also plans to send two F-35 fighter jets to Bulgaria in April.
After holding talks with Ms Truss in Brussels, Mr Stoltenberg suggested additional battle groups could be deployed to eastern Europe.
"We will always respond to any deterioration of our security environment, including through strengthening our collective defence," said Mr Stoltenberg. He added that the alliance will "take all necessary measures to protect and defend all allies".
He urged Russia "to de-escalate and choose the path of diplomacy". In response to Russia’s demand that Ukraine be blocked from joining the military alliance, he said: "We stand for the right of each nation to choose its own alliances and Nato’s door remains open."
The decision by the US and UK to withdraw embassy staff was heavily criticised by Ukraine. The EU said its diplomats would remain, highlighting splits in the face of Russian aggression.
Kyiv complained that recalling diplomats was "premature" and "excessively cautious" while Josep Borrell, the EU’s top foreign diplomat, accused the UK and US of “dramatising” the situation while negotiations with Russia continued.
"We are not going to do the same thing, because we do not know any specific reasons," said Mr Borrell. “You have to stay calm doing what you have to do, and avoid a nervous breakdown."
Alexei Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine's national security and defence council, said fuelling panic over a potential Russian invasion played into Mr Putin's hands.
"If people go into a state of panic, this is a very dangerous situation for the country," said Mr Danilov.
To add to a growing list of war games in recent weeks, on Monday Russia's Navy dispatched 20 vessels and marines for snap drills in the Baltic Sea that will involve 140 ships and more than 10,000 troops.
The vessels and their crews will conduct training in how to detect enemy submarines, repel air raids and underwater attacks while Russian marines will target mock terrorists attacking Russian ships, the Navy's press office said.
Ireland said planned Russian live-fire drills off its coast were "not welcome".
Separately, Russia has been shipping troops and heavy weaponry to neighbouring Belarus, where major joint military exercises are due to be held next month.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin on Monday once again blamed Nato for stoking the tensions.
“All this is happening not because of what we, Russia, are doing," said Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman. "This is happening because of what Nato, the US are doing."
In a sign of fears of a conflict, European stock markets dropped three per cent – the worst day's trading since November 26, when the omicron variant of Covid-19 was first identified as a threat.
Russian and Ukrainian officials are set to meet in Paris on Wednesday for talks with their French and German counterparts in a bid to defuse tensions, an aide to Mr Macron said.
“The president thinks there is a space for diplomacy, a path to de-escalation,” the aide said.
The aide confirmed that Mr Macron would speak to Mr Putin “in the coming days”.
- Russian Media Freak Over Joe Biden’s Election Resurrection
- Joe Biden Has a Complicated Record on Public Health Crises
- Joe Biden: The virus lays bare the shortcomings of the Trump administration
- Exclusive — As Coronavirus Crisis Rages, Tom Cotton Launches Television Ads Exposing Joe Biden’s Chinese Corruption
- Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders meet for first one-on-one debate as nation faces coronavirus crisis
- Coronavirus could turn Joe Biden’s defining weakness into a strength
- Joe Biden Calls for More Coronavirus Testing, Offers No Solution for Shortage of Key Materials
- Joe Biden Criticizes Trump's Response to Coronavirus Crisis, Says 'White House Is No Place for On-the-Job Training'
- How Joe Biden's campaign is protecting itself from cyber attacks
- Ukraine crisis will not be solved by military means, says Angela Merkel
- Joe Biden's coronavirus plan: What's in it?
- Joe Biden Is a Tool (But Progressives Can Use Him)
- Mike Bloomberg QUITS 2020 race after disastrous Super Tuesday saying winning is 'impossible' after spending $1 BILLION for just 44 delegates - and immediately endorses Joe Biden, while Elizabeth Warren 'assesses her path forward'
- Joe Biden claims Trump 'risked his presidency' to avoid facing him in 2020
- Joe Biden’s Coronavirus Speech And Campaign Shakeup Show Him Shifting Into General Election Mode
- In crushing blow to Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden scores big Michigan win
- Joe Biden calls for unity after big wins in Michigan, three other states
- Joe Biden’s first virtual town hall was an absolute technical nightmare
- Full transcript of "Face the Nation" on February 9, 2020
- Full transcript of "Face the Nation" on January 12, 2020
Ukraine crisis: Joe Biden prepares troops to face down Russian invasion threat have 1716 words, post on www.telegraph.co.uk at January 25, 2022. This is cached page on Europe Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.