The arrival of 300 U.S. troops in western Ukraine invoked a warning Friday from Moscow that the influx of the military trainers could disrupt the cease-fire between the country’s government troops and Russian-backed separatists.
According to The New York Times, U.S. Army troops, from the 173rd Airborne Brigade based in Italy, arrived earlier in the week for a six-month training rotation with three battalions of Ukraine’s National Guard. Dubbed Operation Fearless Guardian, the training mission is the first by American troops in Ukraine since the start of the war.
Ukrainian leaders and members of the U.S. Congress have been pleading for lethal aid for the front lines from the Obama administration. Although, the White House pledged last month an additional $75 million to their military, the assistance is coming in the form of training, medical supplies and food provisions – not the weaponry the Ukraine needs to defend itself.
Maj. Jose Mendez, operations officer for the 173rd Airborne, said the training would focus “on war fighting functions, as well as training to sustain and increase the professionalism and proficiency of military staffs.”
Last month, dozens of British soldiers began conducting military training in Ukraine. Poland and Canada have also promised to send military trainers later this year.
On Friday, Dmitry S. Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, said, “The participation of instructors or specialist from third countries on Ukrainian territory, where the domestic Ukrainian conflict is unresolved, could destabilize the situation.”
Just the day before, Putin said any Ukrainian offensive would be unsuccessful. When asked to elaborate on the extent of Russian support for the separatists, the Russian president only stated there were no Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine. The comment was made despite evidence that Russian troops and advanced weaponry in the area has been found.
The New York Times reported that Russian officials regularly blame the West for provoking the conflict in Ukraine. Earlier in the year, Putin claimed he had proof that the West was already providing weapons to Kiev. On several occasions, other lurid and dubious reports have been broadcasted about the U.S. by pro-Kremlin news networks.