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Biden consults with European allies about deterring a Russian invasion of Ukraine

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

The Biden administration may send more troops to NATO's eastern flank as it tries to deter a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby says up to 8,500 American troops are being put on alert to join the NATO Response Force, or NRF.

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JOHN KIRBY: Secretary Austin has placed a range of units in the United States on a heightened preparedness to deploy, which increases our readiness to provide forces if NATO should activate the NRF or if other situations develop.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

So far, there has been no decision to deploy these units, but they are on higher alert because, according to Kirby, Russia has shown no signs of de-escalation.

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KIRBY: This is about sending a strong message that we're committed to NATO and we're committed to assuring that our allies have the capabilities they need in case they need to defend themselves.

KHALID: For his part, President Biden is consulting today with European partners on the path forward. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, says the U.S. and its allies are ready if diplomacy fails.

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LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We are making our own plans and working with our allies to respond aggressively should the diplomatic solution not succeed. But we have not given up on diplomacy. Let me be clear.

SHAPIRO: All right, for an update on that diplomacy, let's bring in NPR's Michele Kelemen. Hi, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You went with Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Ukraine last week. And he also met with his Russian counterpart in Geneva. Where does the diplomacy stand right now?

KELEMEN: Well, when he was meeting with Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, Secretary Blinken promised the Russian foreign minister that the U.S. is going to be delivering a paper this week to respond to some of the demands that Russia has made about NATO. The U.S. is still consulting with its allies, and no one is really expecting that this one paper is going to resolve anything. But the hope is that it gives Russian President Vladimir Putin a clear picture that, yes, the U.S. is willing to talk about some of Russia's security concerns in Europe - that is as long as Russia addresses U.S. concerns at the same time. But Blinken has said that some things are non-negotiable, and that includes Ukraine's sovereignty and Ukraine's right to integrate more with the West if that's what the country wants.

SHAPIRO: So the U.S. is offering to address some of Russia's concerns. We heard Ambassador Greenfield say diplomacy is still on the table. But if that doesn't work, what pressure is the U.S. prepared to apply to Russia beyond the sanctions that President Biden threatened last week?

KELEMEN: Right. Well, what's new is what you heard there from John Kirby - that the Biden administration is now also talking about the possibility of beefing up the U.S. troop presence in NATO countries near Russia. I spoke today to a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, who put it this way.

WILLIAM TAYLOR: We've got troops rotating in and out of NATO allied countries. We have some trainers in the western part of Ukraine. What apparently is being discussed is moving combat units from the United States to the East European allies even before the Russians come across the border into Ukraine.

KELEMEN: So Taylor says that Russian President Vladimir Putin is going to have to take all of that into consideration as he decides what his next steps are.

SHAPIRO: Let me ask you about some news that broke over the weekend, when the British government accused Russia of plotting to replace Ukraine's president with a leader who would be more friendly to Moscow. What are U.S. officials saying about that?

KELEMEN: So the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, was asked about that, and she called the reports concerning. She said there would be consequences if Russia carries out such a plot. And while she didn't, you know, confirm the intelligence, she did say that the U.S. has been warning about Russian tactics like this.

And, you know, Ari, I did hear a lot of concern from U.S. officials while we were traveling last week about Russia's very large playbook when it comes to Ukraine, its efforts to destabilize the country. And when he was in Kyiv, Secretary Blinken urged Ukrainian politicians to show a united front. Just as he's trying to get Europeans to show a united front to Russia, he's urging Ukrainian politicians to put aside their differences and show a united front as well.

SHAPIRO: And while the U.S. says it is still hoping that diplomacy works, at the same time, it is drawing down personnel from the embassy in Kyiv. What more can you tell us about that?

KELEMEN: So the State Department has ordered families of diplomats to leave, and it's giving the option for nonessential embassy staff to leave. Officials call this prudent planning because they say a Russian invasion could come at any time. They're also encouraging American citizens in Ukraine to leave on regular flights while they can. But the embassy is continuing to operate.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Thanks a lot, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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