OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Lawmakers to call for stronger US posture in Europe

The Topline: House Armed Services Committee Republicans are planning to introduce legislation on Tuesday in response to a continuing threat from Russia to U.S. allies in the region.

Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) are sponsoring the new legislation, which they plan to unveil sometime in the afternoon after a panel hearing earlier in the day. 

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"It is certainly focused on our posture in the region and what we can do to better position ourselves and our NATO allies to respond to these kinds of crises," a House aide said on background. 

The earlier hearing will take a look at “Russian Military Developments and Strategic Implications,” with Pentagon Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet and the Joint Chief's director for strategic plans and policy, Navy Vice Adm. Frank Craig Pandolfe, planning to testify at the hearing. 

In the meantime, the Pentagon is sending a Navy ship to the Black Sea. According to Pentagon officials, it will arrive there "within the next week." 

The move is being made to reassure allies and partners in the region, said Army Col. Steve Warren on Monday. No port calls in Ukraine are scheduled, though it is expected to do "partnered operations" with allies in the region. 

Pentagon officials say there are still no signs that Russian troops are being pulled back, or that they are exercising, as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has told Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. 

Over the weekend, pro-Russian demonstrators seized government buildings in several eastern Ukraine cities. Ukraine's prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said the seizures were being orchestrated by Moscow to create an excuse for a military invasion as in Crimea. 

The White House suggested Russia is backing the efforts weeks after it took over the Ukrainian region of Crimea after people there held a Russian-backed referendum on leaving Kiev and joining Moscow.

“We call on President Putin and his government to cease all efforts to destabilize Ukraine, and we caution against further military intervention,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

Pentagon officials said the U.S. was still reviewing what additional non-lethal military aid it may give Ukrainian forces. 

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) criticized the administration’s slow response to Ukraine’s request for military assistance. So far, the U.S. has only agreed to provide meal packets. 

“As the risk of further Russian aggression against Ukraine appears to be growing, it is outrageous that the Obama Administration still has not met the Ukrainian government’s request for modest military assistance,” McCain said in a statement. 

“By withholding military assistance, the administration may think it is reducing the risk of further conflict. In fact, the opposite may be true: This decision will appear to Putin as yet another sign of weakness, which may only invite further aggression,” he said. 

Senators say the White House should warn Iran: Lawmakers are urging for the White House to warn Iran not to violate an interim agreement brokered to end its nuclear program, following several news media reports that suggest Iran is reneging on its promise. 

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) urged the president in a letter to “publicly affirm the consequences of any attempt by Iran to violate the Menendez-Kirk amendment and the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) during negotiations.”

Menendez was not successful earlier this year in getting a bill passed that would have made re-imposed the sanctions if Iran did not comply with the interim agreement, but the White House appealed to Senate Democrats to refrain from a vote.

The letter, however, calls upon the president to do so if Iran moves forward with efforts to evade U.S. sanctions and violate the terms of oil sanctions relief provided for in the JPA. 

“We urge you to put Iran on notice that United States is prepared to re-instate these sanctions should Iran attempt to evade our sanctions and violate the terms of the JPA,” they wrote.  

Hagel tours Chinese carrier: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel toured the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning, becoming the first foreign visitor aboard the ship. 

The ship visit came at Hagel’s request, said Army Col. Steve Warren, and is part of a three-day visit to China. Hagel is on a 10-day trip to the Asia-Pacific region, which also includes Japan and Mongolia. 

The ship, purchased from Ukraine, is part of an expanded Chinese navy fleet that includes new submarines and surface ships and is a symbol of China’s rapidly modernizing military and its growing military stature in the region. 

On Sunday, Hagel told reporters China must respect its neighbors in the region, the AP noted. Last year, China declared its own Air Defense Zone, which covered a set of islands its government and Japan have both claimed. 

In recent months, Hagel has also pressed the Chinese government to be more transparent about its expanding military.

 

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— White House warns Russia about raising tensions in Ukraine

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