US bases in Europe raise alert level due to Russian threats

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U.S. defense officials raised the security alert level 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, U.S. and Western officials said.

Officials noted that no specific information has been gathered about potential Russian attacks on U.S. bases. However, any such attack by Russia, overt or covert, would mean a significant escalation of its war in Ukraine.

Russia has stepped up its sabotage efforts in Europe, aiming to disrupt the flow of materials to Ukraine. So far, no U.S. bases have been targeted in these attacks, but U.S. officials believe raising the alert level will help ensure service members remain vigilant.

During the war, U.S. officials have assessed that President Vladimir V. Putin is reluctant to extend the conflict beyond Ukraine’s borders. However, increased aid from the United States and Europe and loosening restrictions on how that aid is used have raised concerns in Moscow, according to U.S. officials. Recent Russian statements have made some American and European officials uneasy.

Ukraine has used American long-range missiles known as ATACMS to strike deep into occupied Crimea. The United States has also allowed Ukraine to use these missiles in cross-border attacks against Russian military targets.

The Crimean attacks prompted Russia to summon Lynne M. Tracy, the U.S. ambassador, to the Foreign Ministry. On June 24, a Kremlin spokesman said that any direct U.S. involvement in the war that caused Russian casualties “must have consequences.”

The US decision to supply long-range weapons and ease restrictions on their use followed Britain’s decision to supply Storm Shadow cruise missiles to Ukraine. Kiev had used those weapons to strike military targets in Crimea.

Attacks using Western weapons, particularly in Crimea, have proven effective, damaging Russian military logistics centers and further weakening Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. However, the success of these attacks has led Moscow to seek ways to deter further attacks.

In recent months, Russia has escalated a series of sabotage attacks across Europe. The campaign, led by Russian military intelligence, has sometimes appeared clumsy, like a fire at an Ikea store. However, NATO has repeatedly warned about such incidents, and Britain expelled Russia’s defense attaché following a fire at a London warehouse.

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

Safeguarding military bases and the people who live and work there is part of what the Pentagon typically calls force protection. Beyond simple fences or guards protecting base gates, it consists of a series of increasingly restrictive security measures that can be implemented in proportion to a given threat.

Most U.S. military facilities around the world are at the second-lowest level of this type, called force protection condition “alpha,” which includes measures such as requiring officers to test their communications equipment and increased random checks of vehicles and personnel entering bases.

At the other end of the spectrum is the “delta” condition, set when an attack is imminent or underway. That level shuts down nonessential functions like elementary schools, orders all vehicles to be searched at the entrance gates, adds more guards, and severely restricts the movement of nearly everyone on a given basis.

Currently, U.S. military bases in Europe are at “Charlie” readiness, the second highest level and the highest level of readiness that can reasonably be maintained for an extended period of time.

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

In a statement released Monday, European Command said officials would not describe the measures it has taken to protect its operational security.

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

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