Two warships leave Europe as Hagel seeks to defuse tensions

Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelShould Mike Pompeo be confirmed? Intel chief: Federal debt poses 'dire threat' to national security Hagel: Trump is 'an embarrassment' MORE sought to reassure his Ukrainian counterpart on Friday, after receiving assurances of non-aggression from Russia and as two U.S. warships left the region. 

During a 35-minute call on with Ukrainian Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh, Hagel reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine, praised restraint shown by Ukrainian forces in Crimea, and commended Tenyukh’s leadership, according to a Pentagon statement. 

Hagel stressed that the Pentagon was “actively reviewing” Ukraine’s request for military aid would keep in close contact with Tenyukh moving forward, the statement said.  

The U.S. is focusing on the non-lethal side of the request, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters on Friday. 

So far, the United States has approved sending about 25,000 cases of food rations, but those have not been shipped yet, as officials figure out how to get them to Ukraine. 

Warren said the U.S. was also considering sending medical equipment, parts of other unspecified equipment, and uniforms. 

"Both leaders agreed on the need to find a diplomatic, peaceful resolution to this crisis,” said the statement. 

A day before, Hagel spoke with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu, who assured him that Russian troops massed along the eastern and southern Ukrainian border were there to conduct exercises, and had no intention of crossing into other parts of Ukraine or taking aggressive actions, according to Pentagon Press Secretary Adm. John Kirby. 

Hagel warned Shoigu that Russia would be held responsible for any violent clashes between Russian and Ukrainian forces, following the death of a Ukrainian warrant officer this week, Kirby said. 

Both calls followed the departure of two U.S. warships from the region this week — a move that could deescalate tensions with Russia, but unnerve Ukraine and allies in the region. 

The aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush departed the Mediterranean Sea and is now in the Red Sea, and the destroyer USS Truxtun has departed the Black Sea, Warren said.  

The Pentagon had held the Bush, which was on the way to its planned deployment to the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea, in the Mediterranean Sea for a few days longer in order to reassure European allies as Crimea held a referendum on seceding from Ukraine. 

The Truxtun, which was in Greece, was sent to the Black Sea to conduct exercises with Romanian and Bulgarian forces and reassure jittery allies.