By Jeremy Herb - 03/05/14 11:03 AM EST
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that the U.S. military planned to ramp up exercises and operations in Eastern Europe in response to the crisis in Ukraine.
Hagel told a Senate panel that the U.S. military was stepping up joint training exercises in Poland and its participation in NATO’s air policing mission on the Balkan peninsula.
“It is a time for all of us to stand with the Ukrainian people in support of their territorial integrity and sovereignty, and their right to have a government that fulfills the aspirations of its people,” Hagel told the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing on the Pentagon’s 2015 budget.
The increased military activity in Europe comes as the Obama administration is seeking to de-escalate the situation while also reassuring NATO countries in Eastern Europe.
Poland asked NATO to hold a rare emergency meeting on Tuesday under the alliance’s rules allowing such a request when a country feels threatened.
Russia’s military advancement into Ukraine cast a shadow over Wednesday's budget hearing, where Republican defense hawks questioned the wisdom of cuts to the size of the Army.
“Events across the Middle East, Africa and, most recently, in Ukraine have brought into sharp focus a reality that President Obama seems unwilling to accept: the tide of war is not receding,” said Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.), the top Republican on the panel.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pressed Hagel over U.S. intelligence in Ukraine failing to predict that Russian President Vladimir Putin would move forces into Crimea.
“The fact is, Mr. Secretary, it was not predicted by our intelligence. That is well known, which is another massive failure because of our total misreading of the intentions of Vladimir Putin,” McCain said.
Hagel disagreed with McCain’s assessment, saying that the U.S. was “well aware” of the threat. He said he attended a NATO meeting last week in Brussels on the threat to Ukraine.
The Pentagon on Monday suspended its planned military exercises with Russia as the administration weighs other actions.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told the panel that he had spoken with his Russian counterpart on Wednesday. Dempsey said he told the Russian military chief that Moscow’s aggression had been refuted globally.
Dempsey said that NATO’s leaders would be developing options to “stabilize and not escalate the situation.”