Pentagon chief heads to Eastern Europe amid possible Russian invasion of Ukraine
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will depart for Eastern Europe on Tuesday to meet with NATO allies in the region as it braces for a possible Russian military incursion against Ukraine that U.S. officials say could happen as soon as this week.
Austin will meet with senior military and government leaders in Belgium, Poland and Lithuania, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Monday.
The Pentagon chief will also travel to NATO’s ministerial conference, which is scheduled to take place Wednesday and Thursday in Brussels, where he’ll meet with the defense ministers of countries that are part of the alliance.
Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s border, and fears are growing that Moscow could soon launch a military offensive.
The Pentagon on Saturday took 160 members of the Florida National Guard out of Ukraine, and has deployed and repositioned 6,000 troops in Poland, Germany and Romania to reassure U.S. allies.
Most recently, Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday announced the closure of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, which he called a safety measure.
Austin will meet with allied defense ministers and NATO leadership in Belgium, according to a statement from the Pentagon.
There, he will discuss Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine, and “reiterate the U.S. commitment to Article 5, and continue the Alliance’s progress on deterrence and defense while ensuring the Alliance is prepared to face tomorrow’s challenges.”
In Poland, Austin will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda and Minister of National Defense Mariusz Błaszczak to “enhance bilateral cooperation and security and deepen the Polish-American partnership,” Kirby said.
“He’ll also get a chance to meet with U.S. and Polish troops that are at Powidz airbase to tour the facilities there to observe the conditions of our rotational presence,” Kirby said.
Austin will also travel to Lithuania to meet with its president, Gitanas Nauseda, Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte, and Minister for National Defense Arvydas Anušauskas.
Also in Lithuania, Austin will meet jointly with Anušauskas, Estonian Defense Minister Kalle Laanet and Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks, as well U.S. service members stationed in Lithuania.