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Mike Corder
Associated Press

The United States is bolstering its military presence is central and eastern Europe, the Pentagon announced Wednesday, amid fears of conflict erupting in Ukraine sparked by Russia's huge troop buildup near the border.

The announcement Wednesday came after a leaked document published in a Spanish newspaper suggested the United States could be willing to enter into an agreement with Russia to ease tensions over missile deployments in Europe if Moscow steps back from the brink in Ukraine.

The document was published a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the West of ignoring Russia's key security demands in diplomatic efforts to ease spiraling tensions and fears of war with Ukraine, 

Here are things to know Wednesday about the international tensions surrounding Ukraine, which has an estimated 100,000 Russian troops massed along its borders.

Where is the U.S. sending troops in Europe? 

President Joe Biden is sending about 2,000 U.S-based troops across the Atlantic to Poland and Germany this week and moving part of an infantry Stryker squadron of roughly 1,000 troops based in Germany to Romania as demonstrations of American commitments to allies on NATO's eastern flank.

In announcing the moves, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the U.S. forces will not enter Ukraine and will move to their new positions in coming days under U.S. command.

"These are not permanent moves," he said. "These troops are not going to fight in Ukraine."

The moves come amid stalled talks with Russia over its military buildup at Ukraine's borders. And they underscore growing fears across Europe that Russian President Vladimir Putin is poised to invade Ukraine and smaller NATO countries on the eastern flank could be next.

Poland's Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said in a video posted on Twitter: "The strengthening of NATO's eastern flank shows that the U.S. and the alliance are taking seriously the threat on Russia's part and are taking resolute deterrent steps."

___ Aamer Madhani, Lolita C. Baldor

British Defense Secretary warns all would suffer economically from war 

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace underscored warnings to Russia about the consequences of invading Ukraine, but cautioned that the West would be affected, too.

Wallace said at a press conference with Slovenia's Defense Minister Matej Tonin that the message to Putin is clear that "there would be severe consequences for any invasion in Ukraine."

Wallace added that "we would all suffer economically" in such a scenario, and there likely would be a mass migration from Ukraine if Russia invades.

"Therefore, I think it is in all our interest to put as much effort as possible to both deter but also to engage the Russian government to make sure that this does not develop," he said.

___ Jovana Gec

What's in the leak of alleged U.S., NATO replies to Russia?

The Spanish daily El Pais published two documents purported to be written replies from the United States and NATO last week to Russia's proposals for a new security arrangement in Europe. 

The U.S. document, marked as a confidential "non-paper," said the United States would be willing to discuss in consultation with its NATO partners "a transparency mechanism to confirm the absences of Tomahawk cruise missiles" at sites in Romania and Poland. U.S. officials could not be immediately contacted to confirm that the document is authentic.

The discussions would only happen if Russia "offers reciprocal transparency measures on two ground-launched missiles bases of our choosing in Russia," the document said.

NATO declined comment, but the text of the purported NATO document closely reflects previous statements made by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg as he laid out the 30-nation military organization's position on Russia's demands.

___ Lorne Cook and Dasha Litvinova

What are the Dutch doing to help Ukraine?

The Netherlands is working out if the country can offer cyber defense expertise to Ukraine amid diplomatic efforts to ease tensions with Russia.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte visited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday for long-planned talks about economic links and the 2014 downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet in eastern Ukraine. But Rutte said the discussions were dominated by the tensions on Ukraine's border with Russia.

He said "the only route to a solution is through de-escalation, diplomacy and dialogue."

Rutte said the Netherlands "will in the meantime, support Ukraine wherever we can. For example, we are talking about offering Dutch assistance to fend off cyberattacks against Ukraine."

Russia has launched significant cyberattacks against Ukraine previously and would almost certainly do so again as part of any operation against its neighbor. Such hostile activity against Ukraine could spread far and wide, as the devastating NotPetya attack did in 2017.

___ Mike Corder

What effect is the Ukraine crisis having on inflation? 

The specter of conflict between Russia and Ukraine is helping drive up prices across the 19 nations that use the shared euro currency.

The European Union's statistics agency reported Wednesday that inflation in the eurozone rose an annual 5.1 percent in January, breaking records set in the two previous months and reaching the highest level since record-keeping started in 1997.

Soaring energy prices have played a major role, rising a whopping 28.6 percent. Natural gas prices have surged in Europe because of depleted winter reserves, lower supplies from Russia and fears of a renewed military move by Moscow against Ukraine. Meanwhile, oil prices have spiked as the global economy recovers from the worst of COVID-19 restrictions.

EU nations get around 40 percent of their natural gas supplies from Russia. 

How is Ukraine's economy faring?

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the embattled country's government has successfully shored up its currency amid jitters over the prospect of war breaking out.

"Today we have contained the situation, despite the information panic. We have taken many different steps, stabilized the hryvnia and calmed the markets," Zelenskyy said after talks with the leader of the Netherlands. "Today we see that the national currency is strengthening."

Ukraine's president also said the country has been boosting its military capabilities, but stressed that all the weapons Ukraine is getting from its Western allies are strictly for defense purposes. 

"It's very important for us that all these weapons are for defense. We think only about peace and de-occupation of (our) territories, solely through diplomatic means," Zelenskyy said.

___ David McHugh

Family of jailed American farmer call for U.S. to get him home 

The family of an American farmer detained in Ukraine on what they call bogus charges is calling on the Biden administration and State Department to "use their leverage" to get him home amid soaring tensions between Kyiv and Moscow and fears of war.

Kurt Groszhans set out from North Dakota for Ukraine in 2017 to connect with his family's ancestral homeland and farm the country's fertile soil. But his farming venture with a law professor who's now a high-ranking Ukrainian government official fell apart in acrimony and accusations that culminated in his arrest last November on charges of plotting to assassinate his former business partner. 

His family and supporters say the accusations are designed to silence Groszhans' claims of corruption in Ukraine.

As he awaits trial, Ukraine is bracing for a potential Russian invasion and the U.S. has ordered the families of American personnel at the U.S. Embassy to evacuate. That has left his family fearing that Groszhans could be left behind.

Asked for comment, the State Department said the administration took seriously its responsibility to help detained Americans and was closely following the case, but declined to comment further.

___ Eric Tucker

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