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US troops in Ukraine eligible to receive hazard pay in move that may rile Putin: expert

U.S. troops who are currently serving in Ukraine out of the American Embassy in Kyiv will now be eligible for the Imminent Danger pay allowance of $224 per month.

American troops serving in Ukraine will now be eligible for Imminent Danger pay (IDP), a special allowance to members in areas where there is a risk of physical harm.

Grier Martin, who is temporarily filling the role of the Pentagon’s top personnel official, announced that troops in Ukraine would be eligible for the allowance in a memo earlier this month, according to a report from the Military Times. The pay will be retroactive to April 2022, aligning with when the State Department began offering danger pay to its employees in Ukraine.

Troops serving in Ukraine were already eligible to receive a $150-per-month hardship duty allowance for serving in Ukraine, which will be reduced to $100 per month when combined with the new pay. Together, the two allowances will give troops serving in Ukraine an additional $325 per month.

According to the Pentagon, only a small number of U.S. troops are currently serving in Ukraine and are based out of the American Embassy in Kyiv. The troops are responsible for embassy security and accounting work related to the military equipment the U.S. has sent to assist Ukrainian forces since the Russian invasion last year.

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"IDP area designations often include specified land areas and the 'airspace above' as a common practice," a defense official told Fox News Digital.

"This is the case for Ukraine, where there are currently military members serving in at our embassy in Kyiv," the official continued. "IDP is paid to members of the armed forces who serve in designated areas where they [are] subject to the threat of physical harm on the basis of hostile fire, explosion of hostile mines, civilian insurrection, civil war or terrorism"

Qualifying service members are paid at the rate of $7.50 per day but not to exceed $225 per month, according to the official.

The defense official also said that U.S. military personnel in the country were only assigned to embassy operations in Kyiv, performing duties in accordance with U.S. embassy operations throughout the world.

Rebekah Koffler, an author and former DIA intelligence officer, told Fox News Digital that while U.S. forces serving in Ukraine deserve the additional benefit, there is a danger in how the move could be interpreted by Russia.

"For Moscow, this is simply another signpost, along with many others, that the U.S. is prepared to go to war with Russia over Ukraine," Koffler said.

Koffler said many Russian newspapers, several of which are state owned, have picked up the story that U.S. troops in Ukraine will now receive the allowance, an example that the "Russians follow every move the Biden administration takes with regard to the Russia-Ukraine conflict and interprets it within the prism of its expected outcome."

"Russian intelligence services made an assessment that a war between Russia and the U.S. was ‘inevitable’ because of what Moscow perceives as Washington’s and NATO’s encroachment in its strategic security perimeter, of which Ukraine is part of," Koffler added.

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The move also comes after an ABC News report in April revealed that a small team of U.S. special operations forces was working out of the embassy in Kyiv, The Pentagon said the elite troops were not fighting on the battlefield and were instead being used as security for high-level visitors and helping Ukrainian forces with intelligence operations.

A former U.S. official told ABC News the special operations forces have helped plan operations that have led to "hundreds, if not thousands, of Russian military casualties" since arriving shortly after the Russian invasion.

Koffler also noted a recent authorization for the U.S. to call up an additional 3,000 reserve forces to augment operations in Europe, warning that Russian President Vladimir Putin could view everything together as a sign of U.S. escalation.

"Here’s what Putin sees from where he sits: The U.S. has dramatically increased the scope and scale of military hardware provided to Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine," Koffler said. "Last year, the Pentagon increased U.S. troop presence in Europe by 20,000 troops, bringing the total U.S. force in Europe to more than 100,000. Ukraine is increasingly willing to launch drone attacks into Russia proper, including [the] Moscow region, Rostov and on Crimea. Ukraine’s president, [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy, a few days ago announced that war is coming to Russia."

Koffler said Putin may believe it is only "a matter of time" before U.S. forces become directly involved on the battlefield in Ukraine, warning that the Russian leader could strike first if he sees the escalation as inevitable.

"Russia has a preempting doctrine, which includes nuclear strikes in the combat zone. Putin will not sit and wait to find out what the U.S. does. He already made his conclusions based on forecasts made by his intelligence services," Koffler said. "Moscow and Washington are currently, firmly on an escalation path directly to a kinetic clash with Russia."

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