U.S. sending nearly 3,000 troops to Eastern Europe in coming days

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WASHINGTON, Feb 2 (Reuters) - President Joe Biden's administration announced on Wednesday the deployment of nearly 3,000 American troops to eastern Europe in the coming days amid a standoff with Russia over Ukraine, moving to shield NATO allies from potential spillover if war erupts.

The deployments to Poland and Romania are above and beyond the 8,500 U.S. troops the Pentagon put on alert last month to be ready to deploy to Europe if needed.

Together, the moves aim to reassure jittery NATO allies in the face of a major Russian military buildup near Ukraine while avoiding new U.S. deployments to Ukraine itself, which is not part of NATO but does receive weapons and training from the United States and its allies.

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Biden's deployments could also signal a willingness to take more proactive military moves as Russia's buildup continues despite ongoing efforts to diplomatically defuse the crisis.

"It's important that we send a strong signal to Mr. Putin and, frankly, to the world that NATO matters to the United States and it matters to our allies," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at a news briefing, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A Stryker squadron of mechanized infantry forces comprising around 1,000 U.S. service members based in Vilseck, Germany will be sent to Romania, the Pentagon said. The Pentagon also said around 1,700 service members, mainly from the 82nd Airborne Division, will deploy from Fort Bragg, North Carolina to Poland, and 300 other service members will move from Fort Bragg to Germany.

The Pentagon left open the possibility of additional U.S. deployments beyond those announced on Wednesday. It signaled a willingness, and need, to do more to prepare for potential conflict in Europe.

"I can't be perfectly predictive about how this is going to go, and it's precisely because we can't be perfectly predictive that we want to be prepared," Kirby said.

The 8,500 U.S. troops notified of ready-to-deploy orders last week included additional brigade combat teams, logistics personnel, medical support, aviation support and forces involved with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

They would be activated by NATO, if the need arises, according to the Pentagon.

Russia denies planning an invasion. But, having engineered the ongoing crisis by surrounding Ukraine with forces from the north, east and south, Moscow is now citing the Western response as evidence to support its narrative that Russia is the target, not the instigator, of aggression.

Russia, which seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and backs pro-Russian rebels fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine, is demanding sweeping security guarantees including a promise that NATO never admit Ukraine.

The United States has dismissed such calls, saying it would be up to Ukraine and to NATO whether Kyiv ever joins the alliance.

Kirby held out hope that Putin would ultimately opt for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

"We still don't believe he's made a decision to further invade Ukraine," Kirby said.

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Reporting by Phil Stewart and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Will Dunham and Chizu Nomiyama

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