Congressman with Jacksonville ties concerned as tensions rise along Russia-Ukraine border

In this photo taken from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian military vehicles on a railway platform on their way to attend a joint military drills in Belarus, in Russia, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. Russia has sent an unspecified number of troops from the country's far east to its ally Belarus, which shares a border with Ukraine, for major war games next month. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP) (Uncredited, Russian Defense Ministry Press Service)

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Pentagon says Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered about 8,500 U.S. troops on heightened alert, preparing for possible deployment to Europe, if needed, to reassure NATO allies in the face of Russian aggression on the border of Ukraine.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Monday no final decisions have been made on U.S. deployments, but the troops need to be ready. Actual deployment could depend upon NATO deciding to activate its rapid-response force.

In any event, the troops would not be sent to Ukraine itself, which is not a NATO member. Kirby said: “What this is about is reassurance to our NATO allies.”

Congressman Michael Waltz, R-Florida District 6, grew up in Jacksonville and became a Green Beret in the U.S. Army. Waltz is concerned with the rising tension on the Russia-Ukraine border.

“Putin is trying to recreate the Soviet Union, and that will threaten the security of our European allies, undermine stability with one of our largest trading partners in the European Union,” Waltz said.

The most recent intelligence shows Russia with more than 127,000 troops in the region and American officials are saying Russia is in position to launch an invasion.

British intelligence reports the Kremlin may try to install a pro-Russian leader in the Ukrainian government and Waltz says any action by Russia is part of a bigger threat to the U.S.

“Part of the flaw in Biden’s strategy is that he’s talking about getting tough after Russia invades,” Waltz said. “Well, I was just out in Ukraine and their capital Kiev, and talking to Ukrainian officials. They said, no, that doesn’t do us a lot of good after Russian tanks are already sitting in our capital.”

The State Department is recalling all non-essential staff from the Embassy in Ukraine.

Congressman Waltz calls the situation a “slippery slope” because he doesn’t believe the Russian president would stop with Ukraine if Russia invades.

About the Authors:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.