US to send 600 troops to Baltics, Poland amid Ukraine tensions
By Honor Mahony
The US Tuesday (22 April) announced it is sending hundreds of troops for military exercises to four countries in Eastern Europe to assure them of its commitment to the region's defence amid ongoing tension in Ukraine.
The 600 US troops will be deployed to Poland and the three Baltic countries - Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania - and will conduct live ammunition exercises with forces from the four host states.
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The US Pentagon said the move was in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine.
“If there’s a message to Moscow, it is the exact same message, that we take our obligations very, very seriously on the continent of Europe,” said Pentagon press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby on Tuesday, according to US media reports.
Kirby said the decision was more than about symbolism, with Nato having ruled out military intervention in Ukraine.
“Any time you put troops on the ground and doing exercises — in this case, for a month at a time — it’s more than symbology. The kind of work that we’re going to be doing is real infantry training. And that’s not insignificant.”
Around 150 troops are to arrive in Poland from a US base in Italy on Wednesday while the three Baltic states should all see US troops by next Monday.
The move is in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea last month following a referendum which the US and the EU have not recognised.
Tensions have since spread to eastern Ukraine with armed pro-Russia forces occupying areas and refusing to leave until the country's acting government steps down.
The developments, which have seen Russia mass elite troops on the Ukrainian border, have made EU states neighbouring Russia and Ukraine particularly nervous.
However, the EU as a whole has struggled to find a coherent response, as it weighs a series of issues including not escalating the crisis and protecting economic and energy interests.
The US has been more forthright in its response although military intervention has been ruled out.
Vice President Joe Biden after a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Tuesday told Kiev that it will not walk this "difficult road" alone.
"No nation has the right to simply grab land from another nation,” he said. “No nation has that right. And we will never recognise Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, and neither will the world.”
Biden also called on Russia to “stop supporting men in masks in unmarked uniforms" who have seized buildings in eastern Ukraine.
The US has air force fighters circulating in the four countries and a navy presence in the Black Sea.
On Tuesday Washington said it would provide $50 million in aid “to help Ukraine pursue political and economic reform and strengthen the partnership between the United States and Ukraine" and $8 million in non-lethal assistance to Ukraine troops.