Top U.S. defense officials and diplomats will gather in Stuttgart, Germany on Friday to discuss how to counter what is widely seen as Russia's military moves in Ukraine and address concerns among allies about Moscow’s aggression, following an upsurge of fighting between the Ukrainian military and Russia-backed rebels.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter will meet with generals, ambassadors and other leaders behind closed doors at the headquarters of U.S. European Command to review the effectiveness of current EU and U.S. economic sanctions and NATO's strategy in deterring further Russian actions in Ukraine.
"This meeting is intended to inform the secretary's thinking as he heads into his first NATO ministerial [meeting] in late June," said Pentagon spokesman Brent Colburn. "One of the areas of focus will be Russia's actions over the past 18 months, including their operations in Ukraine," said Colburn.
A Pentagon official told VOA Russia's support for rebels in eastern Ukraine has grown in intensity, possibly paving the way for a new offensive.
"We continue to see Russian support for the separatists in eastern Ukraine, including the provision of equipment, forces, intelligence and training. Russia continues to move forces and equipment back and forth across the open border with Ukraine. They are providing intelligence and command and control support, as well as operating sophisticated equipment like UAVs, electronic warfare systems, and air defense systems. The separatists have the capacity to launch a new offensive with very little warning time. Russia also maintains thousands of troops close to Ukraine’s border," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
At a Pentagon briefing Thursday, spokesman Steve Warren said the talks are "an opportunity to hear firsthand the impact of Russia's actions on our European partners."
Meanwhile, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday that President Barack Obama will discuss extending sanctions against Russia when he meets with other world leaders at the upcoming G7 summit in Germany.
Earnest acknowledged that economic pressure has not yet resulted in Russian President Vladimir Putin changing his "strategic calculus inside Ukraine."
Western allies have imposed asset freezes and travel bans on a number of Russians. The United States launched Operation Atlantic Resolve to step up military exercises with NATO members in Eastern Europe. The United States approved $1 billion to support efforts to reassure European allies.
VOA's Carla Babb and Jeff Seldin contributed to this report from the Pentagon. Some material came from Reuters.