Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered U.S. warships to stay in the Mediterranean amid tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

Austin directed the USS Harry Truman carrier strike group to remain in European Command's area of operations instead of transiting to Central Command’s area of operations — which includes Northeast Africa across the Middle East to South Asia.

The change “reflects the need for a persistent presence in Europe and is necessary to reassure our allies and partners of our commitment to collective defense,” the official said.

The official referred further questions about the deployment to European Command, which didn’t immediately return a request for comment to media outlets.

The U.S. and NATO have warned that Russia may be preparing to invade Ukraine as Moscow masses tens of thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border.   

Moscow has denied intentions of invading Ukraine and this month submitted security demands that NATO not expand eastward and roll back its military deployments.

U.S. and Russian officials will meet on Jan. 10 to discuss Russia’s demands, and that will be followed by a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on Jan. 12.

The Truman strike group left Naval Station Norfolk, Va., and Mayport, Fla., on Dec. 1 for a regularly scheduled deployment and has been in the Mediterranean Sea. Last week, the group conducted multiple tactical operations and exercises with the Tunisian Navy.

The group includes the flagship USS Harry Truman aircraft carrier, as well as the cruiser USS San Jacinto and the guided-missile destroyers USS Bainbridge, USS Cole, USS Gravely, and USS Jason Dunham.

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