PENTAGON - The U.S. Defense Department has announced upcoming multinational military exercises inside Ukraine.
The U.S.-led drill later this month in western Ukraine marks the first deployment of American ground troops to the nation since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in March and subsequent hostilities between Ukrainian troops and what are widely seen as Russia-backed rebels and Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. Moscow denies direct involvement in the conflict.
The exercise, dubbed Rapid Trident, will take place September 15-26 in Yavoriv, Ukraine. About 1,300 personnel from 15 nations are taking part in the annual exercise, including 200 U.S. soldiers.
Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren says the exercise will increase interoperability among the United States, Ukraine and other participating nations.
”It’s a peacekeeping exercise. They’re also going to work on some key tasks like contouring IEDs, convoy operations and patrolling,” said Warren.
The U.S. troops participating will be from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Italy.
Other nations taking part in Exercise Rapid Trident range from Canada to Spain to Latvia.
Prior to Rapid Trident, the U.S. will partner with Ukraine for a military exercise on the USS Ross in the Black Sea. That exercise, dubbed Sea Breeze, will run September 8-10. Some 280 U.S. service members will be participating with personnel from Ukraine, Turkey, Georgia and Romania.
The exercises come as President Barack Obama condemned Russia's intervention in Ukraine as a "brazen assault" on the country's integrity Wednesday.
Speaking in Estonia, Obama assured the former Soviet republic, along with two others, Latvia and Lithuania, which now are members of NATO, that the alliance would defend them against any aggression by Moscow.
"Just as we refused to accept smaller European nations being dominated by bigger neighbors in the last century, we reject any talk of spheres of influence today. And just as we never accepted the occupation and illegal annexation of the Baltic nations, we will not accept Russia’s occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea or any part of Ukraine," said Obama.
NATO agreed in 1997 not to position its troops on Russia's border; but, Obama said that declaration will be open to discussion at Thursday's NATO summit in Wales because "circumstances clearly have changed."