PENTAGON— Even as diplomats work in Geneva to calm rising tensions surrounding events in Ukraine, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the U.S. will provide more non-lethal assistance to Kyiv. The action signals support for the country in its standoff with Russia but falls short of adding U.S. weaponry.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says this is a critical time for NATO, expressing concerns about what he called “Russia’s ongoing de-stabilizing activities” in Eastern Ukraine.
“The actions of the Russians over the last two months is not only irresponsible and violates territorial integrity and sovereignty of a sovereign nation but it’s dangerously irresponsible," said Hagel
Following a meeting with the Polish defense minister at the Pentagon, Hagel said Russia’s aggression has renewed U.S. resolve to strengthen NATO and that U.S. military planners are working to help update NATO’s defense plans.
Hagel says the U.S. is also looking at other ways to reassure allies in Central and Eastern Europe.
“These measures are not meant to provoke or threaten Russia but instead to demonstrate NATO’s continued dedication to collective defense," he said.
Already, the U.S. has sent 12 additional F-16 fighter jets to bolster a detachment in Poland. Those jets will now likely stay through the end of the year.
And Hagel announced the U.S. will provide Ukraine with more non-lethal military aid, including medical supplies, helmets, sleeping mats and water purification units. Despite requests for military assistance, the Obama administration has until now provided Ukraine mostly* with financial support while pressuring Russia diplomatically.
NATO is strengthening its presence in the region, saying Thursday it will send a contingent of mine hunting ships to the Black Sea.
Poland, a NATO member, is also worried about Russia and has been in talks with the U.S. about modernizing its military.
Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak says he is encouraged by what he has heard.
“We want Poland to be as close to the West as possible, cooperating with NATO and the United States, and there is no other way to guarantee our own security," said Siemoniak.
Despite expressing hope talks will be able to help defuse growing tensions, Defense Secretary Hagel refused to rule out the possibility Russia could be looking to reclaim territory and influence lost in the collapse of the old Soviet Union, saying “based on past actions we have to look at every possibility.”