NATO plans to bolster Ukrainian forces

NATO officials don’t expect to see near-term military “stand offs” with Russia as President Vladimir Putin appears poised to annex the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, but are planning to bolster Ukrainian forces in the long-term, a NATO official told the Hill. 

NATO plans to help Ukrainian forces build capacity via joint exercises, advice and other unspecified things, the official said on background. 

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Although the official did not specify exact exercises, the U.S. Army is planning to conduct an exercise in Ukraine this July, according to the Army Times.

Exercise Rapid Trident 2014 is expected to take place near L’viv, Ukraine, and will involve units from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Georgia, Germany, Moldova, Poland, Romania, the United Kingdom and Ukraine, Lt. Col. David Westover Jr. told the Army Times. 

Westover said the exercise will focus on training for peacekeeping, not repelling an enemy invader. 

“As of today, the plan is to train a U.S.-Ukrainian combined battalion headquarters in a Field Training Exercise with a peace support operations scenario,” Westover said in an email Friday to Army Times. “Exercise planning will continue until we are told otherwise.”

Meanwhile, NATO forces have bulked up in the region. The United States has sent 12 F-16s fighter jets and about 200 airmen to Poland to augment a U.S.-Poland training mission there, and has sent six F-15 fighter jets and a KC-135 refueling plane to augment a NATO mission to protect Baltic airspace. 

NATO has also deployed an Airborne Early Warning and Control System aircraft to Polish and Romanian airspace help monitor the situation in Ukraine. 

On Monday, the U.K. announced plans to send additional fighter jets to bolster the NATO air policing mission. 

“I hope that will provide reassurance to our Nato allies in the east,” Defense Secretary Philip Hammond told members of the British Parliament on Monday. 

The aircraft will arrive by late April as part of the long-enforced NATO mission over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

“We are doing everything we can to reassure our NATO allies about the protection we offer,” Hammond said.