26 April 2014, 12:21

US troops land in Lithuania amid Ukraine crisis

US troops land in Lithuania amid Ukraine crisis

US troops arrived Saturday in Lithuania, part of a US contingent of 600 sent to the region to reassure NATO allies amid the escalating Ukraine crisis. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite hailed the arrival of American forces as a "deterrence measure".

The American troops will participate in a series of exercises throughout the year, according to the Lithuanian defense ministry.

Another company of soldiers arrived in Poland on Wednesday and in Latvia on Friday and a further 150 are due in Estonia on Monday, AFP reports.

Washington on Tuesday said it was sending the 600 troops to the region to increase its presence in the region.

NATO has also stepped up air patrols over the Baltic states that joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2004.

US troops to arrive for exercises in Lithuania

US troops will arrive this week in Lithuania for a series of training exercises, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said Wednesday.

"In the near future, an additional unit of US ground forces will be in Lithuania, this will happen this week. US and Lithuanian troops will participate in joint exercises to train to protect the territory of Lithuania if a real threat emerges," the president told journalists.

Lithuania will host US troops from the Italy-based 173rd Airborne Brigade, Grybauskaite said without giving further details on the drills.

The Pentagon announced Tuesday that Washington will send 600 soldiers to four countries in eastern Europe for exercises that will begin in Poland and later move to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Washington has called for more frequent military exercises in the Baltic countries, but said it had no plans to deploy a permanent contingent to the region.

US to send 600 troops to Eastern Europe to reassure allies

The United States is sending about 600 soldiers to Poland and the three Baltic states for infantry exercises, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, one of its highest-profile steps yet to reassure NATO allies after Crimea's reunification with Russia.

Groups of 150 soldiers will be sent to Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia in rounds of month-long exercises in each country in what the Pentagon calls a "persistent rotational presence" that stops short of permanently basing troops.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, a top Defense Department spokesman, said the deployments sent a strong message to NATO allies about US commitments to the alliance following events in Ukraine.

"If there's a message to Moscow, it is the same exact message that we take our obligations very, very seriously on the continent of Europe," Kirby said, leaving open the possibility the drills, set to last through 2014, could continue into 2015.

The United States and NATO have made clear they will not intervene militarily in Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, despite Ukraine's Crimea region's accession to Russia and an alleged buildup of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border.

They are instead focusing on temporarily boosting their presence in eastern Europe in a drive to reassure allies, such as the former Soviet Republics in the Baltics, that NATO would protect them if they ever faced Russian aggression.

Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - with their own Russian-speaking minorities - have been increasingly worried that Russia's annexation of Crimea, partly on ethnic grounds, could herald destabilization in their own region by Moscow.

The Latvian government welcomed the announcement, calling it a "fast and practical response." Estonian Defense Minister Sven Mikser said the move "significantly increases the security of Estonia."

Poland, which itself emerged from Soviet-imposed communism only in 1989, has called for a strong NATO troop presence in eastern Europe.

Still, Russia says deployment of significant NATO forces in eastern European countries close to Russia would violate the 1997 Founding Act, a cooperation agreement between Moscow and the alliance.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said the deployments would "strengthen our readiness for collective defense and will add to ensuring safety of our people."

Kirby said the first company-sized contingent of about 150 US paratroopers from the US Army's 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team based in Italy would arrive in Poland on Wednesday.

Additional companies will travel to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and would be in place by Monday, he said.

Beyond the troop deployments, the Pentagon also announced the return of the frigate USS Taylor to the Black Sea, just as the guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook prepares to depart.

A US Navy official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Cook arrived in the Black Sea on Tuesday and was expected to overlap with the Taylor for a couple of days.

US to deploy 600 Paratroopers to Poland, Baltics ahead of war games

The United States has announced an operation to deploy 600 troops to Poland and Baltic states ahead of the upcoming military drills, Pentagon's spokesman said Tuesday.

"I can announce today that a company-size contingent of paratroopers from the US Army Europe's 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team airborne, which is based in Vicenza, Italy, will arrive in Poland tomorrow to begin exercises with Polish troops," Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters at a daily briefing. Kirby said the drills would last for about a month.

The first 150 US troops will land in Poland on 23 April, with additional 450 paratroopers to be deployed in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the coming days. In a separate development, Estonia's Defense Ministry said Tuesday it was expecting a brigade of 150 US troops to come to Estonia by 5 March to take part in a military exercise codenamed Spring Storm.

Estonia's Minister of Defense, Sven Mikser, said the deployment would bolster the country's defenses and mark the beginning of a large-scale "US and NATO forces' re-deployment across Europe".

The US military presence in the Baltic region and Estonia, in particular, will give a significant boost to NATO's containment policy and show its commitment to Europe's security and collective defense, the Estonian military chief opined. Last Friday, Polish Defense Minister Tomas Semonyak said in an interview with the Washington Post after his meeting with US's Chuck Hagel that the two allies would soon announce US army deployments to Poland on the heels of the escalating Ukrainian crisis.

The US Department of Defense later refuted this claim, saying it was contemplating a series of measures designed to boost Europe's defenses in air, on land and at sea. NATO's chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen earlier said the alliance was going to send additional forces to Eastern Europe. It also admitted to flying more air-policing and surveillance missions over Poland, Romania and the Baltic trio.

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