U.S. defense secretary will visit Belgium and Eastern Europe this week.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III will travel to Belgium, Poland and Lithuania this week to discuss Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine with leaders in each country, the Pentagon announced on Monday.
Mr. Austin will leave on Tuesday for Brussels, where he will consult with NATO leaders, before traveling to Poland to visit American troops and to Lithuania to meet with Baltic leaders, said John F. Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman.
Russian reinforcements continue to flow in with no evidence that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is veering away from military action in Ukraine, Mr. Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. “He is doing all the things you would expect him to do to make sure he’s ready for that option or options,” Mr. Kirby said.
Mr. Kirby dismissed Russian assertions that the buildup of some 130,000 troops was simply seasonal land and naval drills. “It strains credulity to think that they would have this many troops arrayed along the border with Ukraine and in Belarus simply for winter exercises,” he said.
The Pentagon on Friday ordered 3,000 additional troops to Poland, bringing to 5,000 the total number of reinforcements sent to Europe in the past two weeks.
The purpose of the troops, nearly all from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., will be to reassure NATO allies that while the United States does not intend to send troops into Ukraine, President Biden would protect America’s NATO allies from any Russian aggression. Poland borders Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, a close ally of Russia.