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Biden weighs sending 5,000 troops to Eastern Europe to counter Russia

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

People in the capital of Ukraine now know that Russian military forces are within a short drive. Russian troops already occupy part of southern Ukraine. They have long been at the eastern border, where Russia is. And now they are at the northern border, not too far from the capital, Kiev. For the record, Russia denies it plans an invasion. But President Vladimir Putin has made a lot of demands of the United States, which is supporting the current government of Ukraine. And the U.S. is preparing to respond, shipping weapons to Ukrainian forces. That started over the weekend. Also over the weekend, President Biden has begun considering whether to send several thousand additional U.S. troops to NATO countries near Russia.

We're going to begin our coverage this morning with NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre.

Greg, good morning.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: How many U.S. troops would go where if this deployment happened?

MYRE: So according to U.S. officials, Biden is considering sending up to 5,000 U.S. troops to NATO's countries in Eastern Europe. Now, there are some caveats here. The president has not reached a final decision. But this is the plan that emerged when he was at Camp David over the weekend and spoke with his national security team. We also don't know exactly where these U.S. troops might be sent. Poland and Romania are seen as likely options. They both border Ukraine. Possibly other countries could be involved as well. And a new development this morning - NATO says that several countries are putting additional forces on standby and sending some additional ships and fighter jets to existing NATO deployments in Eastern Europe.

INSKEEP: Now, you've said we don't know exactly where they're going. We do know one place they're not going. The U.S. has said they're not sending troops into Ukraine itself. So explain this for us. What does it do to send troops into other countries in Eastern Europe?

MYRE: Well, it's seen as a defensive move, but it's also seen as the U.S. and NATO posing a direct challenge to Russian leader Vladimir Putin. One of his big demands is that NATO remove relatively small numbers of troops that already are present in Eastern Europe. And the Kremlin is already responding today. Putin's spokesman says that the U.S. and NATO are escalating tensions with this kind of talk, that they're whipping up hysteria. And, of course, as you mentioned, Russia claims that it had no plans to invade Ukraine.

INSKEEP: And that word hysteria is one the Russians have used a lot. But the U.S. and its allies have continued insisting there are Russian preparations for an invasion. And they've issued warnings about things that might happen. The U.S. the other day talked about some kind of false flag operation in eastern Ukraine that Russia could use as an excuse to invade. And then Britain took an unusual step - going public with some intelligence over the weekend about Russia's reported plans. What are they saying?

MYRE: Right. They said that Russia is planning to oust Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and replace him with some former Ukrainian officials who would be friendly toward Russia. Now, Britain didn't say how Russia might do this. It didn't provide details. Still, it really is very significant that Britain would go public with this kind of sensitive information, apparently to head off any such Russian moves. And we have seen additional Russian military troop movements in recent days, including into Belarus, which is a friendly country. And if you go to the southern border of Belarus, the northern border of Ukraine, you're within a hundred miles of Ukraine's capital, Kiev.

INSKEEP: How are diplomatic efforts going as all of these military moves are made or discussed?

MYRE: Well, they're still alive. But the developments in the past few days haven't been great. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that there will be additional diplomatic efforts. They will respond to some of the Russian demands in writing. But the U.S. has essentially rejected those - the Russian demands of no NATO troops in Eastern Europe or no Ukraine in NATO.

INSKEEP: NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre is with us.

Greg, thanks. We'll continue listening for your reporting.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.
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