Kremlin denies Putin told Macron there will be no new manoeuvres near Ukraine

The first US troops reinforcing Nato allies on the eastern flank following a Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s border have arrived in Romania, defence minister Vasile Dancu said on Tuesday.

The US is sending nearly 3,000 extra troops to Poland and Romania to shield Eastern Europe from potential spillover from the Ukraine crisis.

The Pentagon said it will relocate a Stryker squadron of around 1,000 US service members from Vilseck, Germany to Romania. In Poland, troops began arriving on Saturday.

Mr Dancu told reporters the first 100 US troops were in Romania handling logistics.

“The Americans have arrived,” he said. “Over 100 specialist US soldiers together with our logistics specialists are preparing, which means it will not be long before the rest of the troops arrive.”

The US currently has about 900 soldiers in Romania, a NATO member since 2004 and host to a ballistic missile defence system, some as part of the Nato force and some under separate bilateral arrangements.

France said it also plans to send troops to Romania and has offered to be the lead nation of a future Nato mission, which could see about 1,000 troops from various countries.

A decision could be made at the next Nato defence ministers meeting in mid-February.

Nato is considering a longer-term military posture in eastern Europe to strengthen its defences, secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday. The alliance currently has troops rotating in and out of eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has said that French assertions that president Vladimir Putin had promised French president Emmanuel Macron that Moscow would not carry out new military initiatives around Ukraine for now were “not right”.

A French official said Mr Putin had made the pledge during long talks in Moscow on Monday evening with Macron.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia and France had not yet been able to strike a deal on de-escalating tensions around Ukraine, but said de-escalation was needed and that the meeting had provided the basis for further work on that front.

According to the same French official, Mr Putin had also agreed that troops taking part in a military exercise on Belarusian territory near Ukraine’s borders will be pulled back once those war games are over on February 20th.

Mr Peskov said troops would return to their bases in Russia after the drills, without giving a precise date, but pointed out that nobody had ever said the forces would stay in Belarus.

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba says the country is looking forward to discussions with Mr Macron on Russia but will not be forced to cross its own red lines.

Mr Macron is visiting Ukraine after talks with Mr Putin. “We are all waiting with interest for the signals that Mr Macron brought from Moscow,” Mr Kuleba said, speaking alongside visiting counterparts from Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. “But I have repeatedly said that we are open to dialogue, we are constructive, we are looking for a diplomatic solution, but we will not cross our red lines and no one will be able to force us cross them.” –Reuters

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