US military ramps up ahead of Crimea vote

The Navy will hold its aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush and her entire battle group in the Mediterranean Sea in Eastern Europe for a few days longer, ahead of Crimea’s Sunday referendum on whether to breakaway from Ukraine.  

“The Bush will continue her operations in the Mediterranean for a few more days to do additional training and to enhance maritime capabilities in the region,” Army Col. Steve Warren, Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Friday. 

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Warren said the carrier was held extra days partly due to worries by regional allies about the upcoming Crimea vote.  

“There’s two reasons. One is, conduct these additional training opportunities, and frankly because a lot of what we’re doing there now is an effort to reassure our allies,” said Warren.  

Warren said the U.S. will be sending 25,000 cases of military food rations to Ukraine shortly. 

The U.S. is still considering whether to send more aid, which could include light weaponry, to the Ukrainian forces, as Russian forces build up on Ukraine’s eastern border as part of what Russian officials say is a military exercise. 

“Ukraine has submitted to the State Department a request for equipment. We’re reviewing that request now,” Warren said, adding that portions of the request has been already filled.

Warren said it was a request primarily for “logistical and support-type of equipment,” and deferred on whether it included any weapons. 

“What I’ll rule out is no major weapon systems — they haven’t asked for tanks or any major weapons systems, but it’s a broad range.”

“We are continuing to call on the Russians to de-escalate the situation,” Warren said. “Russian intervention in Ukraine is a violation of international law.”

The Bush will continue on her mission within the next several days toward the Arabian Sea, where she is expected to replace the USS Harry S. Truman in the Navy’s 5th Fleet area of operation, Warren said. 

However, he acknowledged that “anything could happen” in the next coming days that could alter that plan.

In addition, six U.S. F-16s arrived in Poland on Thursday, and an additional six arrived Friday, Warren said. The aircraft will be part of a U.S. air training detachment in Poland where there are 10 airmen.  

Two cargo aircraft — a C-130 and a C-17 — are also scheduled to arrive in Poland Friday afternoon to deliver supplies and approximately 150 personnel, Warren said. 

Training will begin next week, after maintenance teams have arrived, Warren said.  

On March 5, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the U.S. was also sending six F-15s, 65 airmen, and one KC-135 refueling aircraft to Lithuania to augment its participation in a NATO air policing mission in the Baltics, where the U.S. currently has four F-15s there and 150 airmen. 

“This action comes at the request of our Baltic Allies and further demonstrates our commitment to NATO security,” a defense official said.