US, Ukraine start mil­i­tary train­ing ex­er­cises to pro­tect against Rus­sia

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

Troops from the United States and Ukraine kicked off joint train­ing ex­er­cises Mon­day in­tended to help bol­ster Ukraine’s de­fenses against in­cur­sions from Rus­sian-backed sep­a­ratists in the east.

Speak­ing un­der driv­ing rain at a mil­i­tary base in the west­ern re­gion of Lviv, Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko said the coun­try’s armed forces needed to be re­built from scratch to de­ter for­eign threats.

The ex­er­cises, dubbed “Fear­less Guardian-2015,” sparked an en­raged re­ac­tion from Rus­sia, which de­scribed them as a po­ten­tial cause of desta­bi­liza­tion. Moscow con­tin­ues to dis­miss mount­ing ev­i­dence of its in­volve­ment in fo­ment­ing and sup­port­ing a sep­a­ratist in­sur­gency in Ukraine that has claimed more than 6,100 lives over the past year.

The 300 U.S. Army para­troop­ers in­volved in the train­ing trav­eled to Ukraine last week and will be work­ing along­side 900 na­tional guards­men.

“The ma­jor­ity of the par­tic­i­pants here from the Ukrainian side have en­dured dif­fi­cult tri­als on the front,” Poroshenko said at the in­au­gu­ra­tion cer­e­mony for the ex­er­cises.

Fight­ing in the east has ebbed sub­stan­tially since the sign­ing of a Fe­bru­ary cease-fire deal, but spo­radic clashes still break out along the 450-kilo­me­ter front line sep­a­rat­ing gov­ern­ment and rebel forces.

The truce deal in­cludes pro­vi­sions for all “armed for­ma­tions” to be pulled out of the coun­try. While Kiev in­ter­prets that lan­guage as be­ing aimed at the Rus­sian forces that Moscow de­nies are in Ukraine, the Krem­lin has ar­gued the United States is im­plic­itly vi­o­lat­ing the cease-fire deal by sta­tion­ing its mil­i­tary train­ers in the coun­try.

Train­ing for Ukrainian troops is part of a broader pack­age of as­sis­tance be­ing pro­vided by the United States. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has said it will pro­vide Ukraine’s mil­i­tary with US$75 mil­lion (NT$2.33 bil­lion) in non­lethal aid, but has re­frained so far from of­fer­ing lethal equip­ment, de­spite calls from the U.S. Congress to do so. Last month, Ukraine be­gan re­ceipt of a planned con­sign­ment of 230 Humvees from the United States.

Na­tional guard units, many of which be­gan as vol­un­teer group­ings, have been an im­por­tant part of Ukrainian forces’ fight­ing against the sep­a­ratists. Two na­tional guard units, work­ing on week­long ro­ta­tions, are hold­ing part of the vil­lage of Shy­rokyne, cur­rently the most fraught lo­ca­tion in the east.

Ukrainian forces in Shy­rokyne said Mon­day that un­rest there had sub­sided since the ar­rival of ob­servers from the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Se­cu­rity and Co­op­er­a­tion in Europe. The Azov Bat­tal­ion, which is lead­ing the gov­ern­ment’s fight for the vil­lage, said heavy shelling had stopped, but re­ported a con­tin­u­a­tion of small arms fire.

“As of 11 a.m., de­spite the fact that OSCE ob­servers are work­ing in Shy­rokyne, snipers are still tar­get­ing Azov po­si­tions,” the bat­tal­ion said in a state­ment.

AP

U.S. sol­diers stand on guard, dur­ing the open­ing cer­e­mony of the “Fear­less Guardian-2015” Ukrainian-U.S. Peace­keep­ing and Se­cu­rity com­mand and staff train­ing, in the Lviv re­gion, west­ern Ukraine, Mon­day, April 20.

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