At a moment Ukraine says that Russian forces are starting to withdraw from the key port city of Kherson, and as Ukrainian cities suffer under increased aerial attacks, the US Army is flexing its muscle with elite training exercises just a few miles from Ukraine's border.
Near the Ukraine-Romania border, an elite airborne division is "practicing for war" - as a CBS film crew detailed days ago - and is ready to be called up at a moment's notice:
The U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division has been deployed to Europe for the first time in almost 80 years amid soaring tension between Russia and the American-led NATO military alliance. The light infantry unit, nicknamed the "Screaming Eagles," is trained to deploy on any battlefield in the world within hours, ready to fight.
CBS gets an exclusive sneak peak: "The US Army's 101st Airborne is practicing for war with Russia just miles from Ukraine's border"— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) October 22, 2022
"It's not just about defending NATO territory," correspondent @charliecbs reports. "They're fully prepared to cross over into Ukrainian territory" pic.twitter.com/XE2OfHZV4o
The training is described as happening just three miles away from Romania's border with Ukraine.
The timing is also hugely significant, coming at a moment the Kremlin has already for months accused Washington of using the Ukraine crisis to wage a proxy war against Russian forces.
"We’re ready to defend every inch of NATO soil," Brigadier General John Lubas told CBS News. “We bring a unique capability, from our air assault capability… We’re a light infantry force, but again, we bring that mobility with us for our aircraft and air assaults,” he said.
War correspondent Charlie D'Agata observed in capturing the rare footage that "It's not just about defending NATO territory," but that "They're fully prepared to cross over into Ukrainian territory" - he said speaking of the Army airborne forces.
It's also significant that the Pentagon is not at all taking steps to hide the troop presence so near the active conflict zone in Ukraine; instead, in inviting a CBS crew to ride along in Black Hawk helicopters the US is openly advertising it, while no doubt delivering a strong warning message to Moscow.
HISTORIC DEPLOYMENT: CBS News has been given exclusive access to the Army’s 101st Airborne Division as they are deployed to Europe for the first time since the last World War. They are now the closest U.S. forces to the fight in Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/61sAvrCeVf— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) October 21, 2022
Journalist Glenn Greenwald has observed of the footage making the rounds on Sunday:
It's always a bad sign when the US military starts embedding the largest media corporations to enable exciting war shots for the evening network news. Biden has done literally everything to make the US a belligerent in the war in Ukraine short of deploying full battalions there.
The Kremlin has long warned it is ready to attack any foreign weapons or troops which enter Ukraine. Already the Russians suspect a long-embedded US intelligence and special forces contingency helping the Ukrainians on the ground. It true, at this point it is probably a very "light" footprint, while the presence of the 101st Airborne just across the border sends a signal that things could escalate dramatically in the blink of an eye.