Alert level raised at US bases in Europe over Russian threats

US defense officials increased the level of security at military bases in Europe over the weekend in response to vague threats from the Kremlin about Ukraine using long-range weapons on Russian soil, US and Western officials said.

Officials said no specific intelligence had been gathered about possible Russian attacks on U.S. bases. Any such attack by Russia, overt or covert, would be a significant escalation of the war in Ukraine.

Russia has stepped up sabotage in Europe, hoping to disrupt the flow of equipment to Ukraine. So far, no U.S. bases have been targeted in the attacks, but U.S. officials said raising the alert level would help ensure that troops were on guard.

Throughout the war, US officials have determined that President Vladimir Putin is reluctant to expand the war beyond Ukraine’s borders.

But the increased U.S. and European aid — and the loosening of restrictions on how that equipment is used — has caused consternation in Moscow, U.S. officials say. Russia’s recent statements have made some U.S. and European officials wary.

Ukraine is using longer-range U.S. missiles, known as ATACMS, to strike deep inside occupied Crimea. The United States has also said Ukraine could use them in cross-border strikes on Russian military targets.

The Crimean attacks prompted Russia to summon U.S. Ambassador Lynne M. Tracy to the State Department. And on June 24, a Kremlin spokesman said that any direct U.S. involvement in the war that resulted in the deaths of Russians “must have consequences.”

The US decision to both supply longer-range weapons and ease restrictions on their use followed a decision by Britain to supply Storm Shadow cruise missiles to Ukraine, which Kiev had used to attack military targets in Crimea.

The attacks with Western weapons, especially in Crimea, proved effective, damaging the logistical centres of the Russian army and further weakening the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

The success of the attacks has Moscow looking for ways to discourage further attacks.

In recent months, Russia has stepped up a series of sabotage attacks across Europe. The campaign, carried out by Russian military intelligence, has at times appeared clumsy, including a fire at an Ikea store. But NATO has repeatedly warned about the episodes, and Britain expelled Russia’s defense attaché after a warehouse fire in London.

Military bases that provide Ukraine with training, intelligence and other support would be a logical next target, although there is no specific information that Russia is considering such an attack.

Securing military bases and the people who live and work there falls under what the Pentagon commonly calls force protection. Beyond things like simple fences or guards protecting the gates of bases, that includes a range of increasingly restrictive security measures that can be implemented in proportion to a given threat.

Most U.S. military facilities around the world are in the second-lowest such setting, called force protection condition “alpha,” which includes measures such as ordering officers to test their communications equipment and intensifying random searches of vehicles and people entering bases.

On the other end of the spectrum is the “delta” condition, which is set when an attack is imminent or underway. That level disables non-essential functions like primary schools, forces searches of all vehicles at entry gates, adds more guards, and severely restricts the movement of almost everyone on a given base.

Currently, US military bases in Europe are in “Charlie” state, the second highest level and the highest level of readiness that can reasonably be sustained over a long period of time.

Over the weekend, Commander Daniel Day, a spokesman for U.S. European Command, said the military was asking personnel to “remain vigilant and alert at all times.”

In a statement Monday, European Command said officials would not elaborate on what measures they are taking to protect their operational security.

“Our heightened vigilance is not related to any single threat,” the command said in the statement, “but out of an abundance of caution due to a combination of factors that could potentially impact the safety and security of U.S. service members in the European theater.”

Eric Schmitt contributed to the reporting.

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