10 Mar 15. Russia is actively supporting violence in Ukraine, sending weapons and equipment to separatist forces and violating the “immediate and comprehensive cease-fire” called for in the Minsk agreement, officials told Congress today.
The cease-fire is holding in some areas of eastern Ukraine, and recovery and rebuilding efforts have begun, Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Brian P. McKeon told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In a joint written statement with Navy Vice Adm. Frank Pandolfe, the director of plans and policy for the Joint Staff, McKeon noted that this lull may be a stalling tactic as a precursor to more violence.
Across the region, the picture is very mixed, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland said.
“Just yesterday, shelling continued in Shyrokyne — a key village on the way to Mariupol — and outside Donetsk on the weekend,” she said. “And just in the last few days, we can confirm new transfers of Russian tanks, armored vehicles, heavy artillery and rocket equipment over the border to the separatists in eastern Ukraine.”
In the joint statement, McKeon and Pandolfe called on Russia to stop “moving the goalposts,” to uphold the cease-fire and to allow Ukraine the freedom to choose its own path.
The United States has vigorously pursued a multi-pronged approach in response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, McKeon said.
“We have raised the costs to Russia for its actions, re-assured allies of our unwavering support to their security, and provided tangible support to Ukraine to help it through the crisis,” he said.
The Defense Department halted its cooperation with Russia, McKeon said. “The administration has also prohibited exports of sensitive technologies that could be used in Russia’s military modernization and has imposed blocking sanctions on 18 Russian defense technology firms,” he added.
Expanded Reassurance Mission
The U.S. has maintained a military presence in the region as part of visible and concrete measures aimed at reassuring European allies and partners and deterring further Russian aggression, he said.
In addition, McKeon said, “We tripled the number of U.S. aircraft taking part in [NATO’s] Baltic Air Policing rotation, provided refueling aircraft for NATO Airborne Warning and Control System missions, deployed U.S. Navy ships to the Black and Baltic Seas 14 times, and increased training flights in Poland.”
These efforts will step up over the coming year, he noted.
In their joint statement, McKeon and Pandolfe said the ramped-up effort includes prepositioning a second battalion-sized set of tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles in Europe, additional bilateral and multilateral exercises, infrastructure improvements at eight airfields and a squadron of A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft will deploy to Europe for about six months.
In addition, they wrote, capacity-building efforts with close partners such as Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine will enhance their ability to work alongside U.S. and NATO forces and provide for their own defense.
Fulfilling Collective Defense Obligations
NATO has taken similar steps to reassure allies and deter Russia, McKeon said. “These measures are defensive, proportionate, and fully in line with the obligations under the North Atlantic Treaty to provide for collective defense of the alliance,” he added.
Improvements to NATO’s Readiness Action Plan will “ensure it is ready to respond swiftly and firmly to new security challenges,” McKeon said.
The newly created Very High Readiness Joint Task Force will be able to deploy at very short notice, he said.
“The task force consists of a land component of around 5,000 troops with an appropriate mix of air, maritime and special operations forces units,” McKeon said. “It aims to strengthen the alliance’s collective defense and ensure that NATO has the right forces in the right place at the right time.”
Economic, Security Crises
The U.S. is providing support as Ukraine — a strong partner to the United States and NATO since its independence – addresses simultaneous security and economic crises, he said.
“Unfortunately, the corruption of the Yanukovych regime starved Ukraine’s armed forces of resources,” McKeon said. “But the neglect of the armed forces by the regime did not strip the military of its professionalism or its determination to fight.”
The U.S. has committed $118 million in material and training assistance to Ukraine’s military, National Guard and border guard service, he said. Over the coming year it will send at least another $120 million, including $45 million for State Department security assistance programs, McKeon said.
“Our assistance has been consistent with identified Ukrainian needs and priorities, and is vetted by our country team in Kyiv and by a flag-level U.S.-Ukraine Joint Commission that continues to assess how to maximize the effect and impact of our security assistance,” he told the committee.
No Military Solution in Ukraine
The department does not believe there is a military solution to the conflict in Ukraine and is working actively to support diplomatic efforts, McKeon said. However, he added, “we are looking at all our options, including the possibility of lethal defensive weapons.”
Russian aggression in Ukraine is a threat to a free, whole and peaceful Europe, he said.
“The United States will continue to work closely with our Ukrainian and European partners to counter these actions and to provide reassurance and support to our partners and NATO allies,” McKeon said.
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @roulododnews)