NATO puts forces on standby as West braces for Russia

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NATO puts forces on standby as West braces for Russia

A service member of Ukrainian armed forces walks at combat positions near the line of separation from Russian-backed rebels near Horlivka in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, January 22, 2022. Picture taken by REUTERS Anna Kudriavtseva File Photo

MOSCOW BRUSSELS, Jan 24 Reuters -- NATO said on Monday it was putting forces on standby and reinforcing eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets, in what Russia denounced as an escalation of tensions over Ukraine.

The move added to a flurry of signals that the West is bracing for an aggressive Russian move against Ukraine. In a statement, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the Kremlin accused the West of hysteria of the need to continue to protect and defend allies, including by reinforcing the eastern part of the alliance.

Britain has withdrawn some staff and dependants from its embassy in Ukraine in response to a growing threat from Russia a day after the United States said it was ordering diplomats' family members to leave.

Military action by Russia could happen at any time, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement. It said that officials would not be in a position to evacuate American citizens in a contingency, so the U.S. citizens currently in Ukraine should plan accordingly. U.S. diplomats at the Kyiv embassy were allowed to leave freely.

There was a decrease in oil prices as the risk of conflict quashed demand for riskier assets and tension over Ukraine were among the factors that led to the rise in oil prices. Russia denies planning to invade Ukraine but has used its build-up of an estimated 100,000 troops near the border to force the West to negotiate over a range of demands to redraw the security map of Europe.

It wants NATO to scrap a promise to let Ukraine join one day and pull back troops and weapons from former Communist countries in eastern Europe that joined it after the Cold War.

Washington believes that demands are non-starters but it is ready to discuss other ideas on arms control, missile deployments and confidence-building measures.

The United States and the European Union, wary of Russia's intentions since it seized Crimea and backed separatists fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine in 2014, have warned Russia not to invade.

Denmark said that the EU was ready to impose never-seen sanctions before economic sanctions and EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels said they would send a unified warning to Moscow. The rouble hit a 14 month low against the dollar, while Russian stocks fell. The rouble-based MOEX was down 6.8% and the dollar-denominated RTS share index was down 8.9%.

Russia is waiting for a response to its demands this week, after talks last Friday -- the fourth round this month -- did not produce a breakthrough.

Moscow is now citing the Western response as evidence that it is under threat from NATO and Ukraine, having engineered the crisis by surrounding Ukraine with Russian forces from the north, east and south.

As for specific actions, we see statements by the North Atlantic Alliance about reinforcement, pulling forces and resources to the eastern flank. The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that tensions are growing and that all this leads to the fact that tensions are growing.

This is not happening because Russia is doing what we are doing. This is all happening because of what NATO and the U.S. are doing and the information they are spreading. He said that the West was showing hysteria and putting out information laced with lies. NATO said Denmark, France and the Netherlands were all planning to send troops, planes or ships to eastern Europe. Ukraine shares borders with four NATO countries: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

President Joe Biden is considering options for boosting U.S. military assets in the region, a senior administration official said after he met top national security aides at his Camp David retreat on Saturday.

The New York Times said Biden was contemplating sending 1,000 to 5,000 troops to eastern Europe, with the possibility of increasing the number if tensions flare further.

A senior administration official said on Sunday that we are working on plans and we are consulting with allies to determine options moving forward. Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it considered the move to send home U.S. diplomats' families as premature and a manifestation of excessive caution. There has been no major changes to the security situation recently, and the threat of new waves of Russian aggression has remained constant since 2014, and the buildup of Russian troops near the state border began in April last year, it said.

Britain said at the weekend that the Russian government was considering a former Ukrainian lawmaker as a potential candidate to head a pro-Russian puppet leadership in Kyiv.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has dismissed the British allegation as disinformation, accusing NATO of escalating tensions over Ukraine.