The Ukraine flashpoint between the U.S. and Russia is heating up.
More than 10 days after the AFP first reported that the Obama administration will be deploying 290 paratroopers to Ukraine to train its national guard soldiers, the story finally is getting traction, carried by other news media like NewsMax, MoneyMorning, and China Post.
Beginning April 20 in three waves of training, each lasting eight weeks, 290 paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team based in Italy, will train 900 Ukrainian national guard troops in the town of Yavoriv in the government-controlled western region of Lviv, near the Polish border.
At the end of the training, the U.S. and Ukraine will conduct joint war games.
U.S. Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said the paratroopers will train six Ukrainian national guard companies “with a focus on internal security and territorial defense, and that “While we continue to believe that there is no military resolution to this crisis, Ukraine has the right to defend itself.” The training assistance “is part of our ongoing efforts to help sustain Ukraine’s defense and internal security operations. The program is also designed to strengthen Ukraine’s defense capability and capacity and assist in its defense reform.”
The National Guard of Ukraine is made up of reservists, and was reformed in 2014 to bring volunteers and militia under government control following the Maidan protests that brought down the pro-Russian government of Victor Yanukovych.
Russian president Vladimir Putin had already accused the U.S. of fuelling the Maidan protests. Given that, U.S. paratroopers’ training of Ukrainian national guards is sure to provoke anger in Moscow. A shaky ceasefire is currently in place in Ukraine, but skirmishes continue on a daily basis.
The U.S. counters that Russia has supplied Ukrainian separatists with weapons and troops during a near year-long conflict that has claimed more than 6,000 lives, but Putin has always denied the claims.
The United States provides some military aid to Ukraine, though it stops short of delivering the lethal weapons asked for by Kiev. The latest aid consists of more than $75 million worth of armored and unarmored Humvees, unarmed Raven drones, counter-mortar radars, night vision devices and other “non-lethal defensive” equipment. Congress recently voted to urge President Barack Obama to provide “lethal” aid to Kiev.
Sporadic fighting is ongoing in pro-Russian, separatist-held eastern Ukraine, despite a ceasefire agreement signed last month.