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Ukraine Seeks Joint US War Games After Crimea Takeover

Mar. 26, 2014 - 03:09PM   |  
Olexander Turchynov, speaker of the Ukrainian parliament and interim Ukrainian president, left, and Ukrainian Defence Minister Igor Tenyukh attend a military drill on March 14. (Sergei Supinsky / Getty Images)
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KIEV — Ukraine’s leader sought parliamentary approval on Wednesday for military exercises with NATO partners that would put US troops in direct proximity to Russian forces in the annexed Crimea Peninsula.

Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov’s request came as the chief of Russia’s general staff announced in Moscow that his forces were now in full control of all of Ukraine’s 193 military bases in the Black Sea region before its seizure by Kremlin forces at the start of the month.

Turchynov said Ukraine wanted to conduct two sets of military exercises with the United States this summer — Rapid Trident and Sea Breeze — that have prompted disquiet in Russia in previous years.

Ukraine is planning two additional maneuvers with NATO member Poland as well as joint ground operations with Moldova and Romania.

US President Barack Obama’s administration this month proposed a 28-percent spending cut to a Pentagon initiative that supports modernizing the armed forces of Ukraine and other ex-Soviet states.

But a Pentagon spokeswoman said that both Rapid Trident and Sea Breeze were still expected to proceed on schedule in the coming months.

The Sea Breeze exercises have especially irritated Moscow because they had on occasion been staged in Crimea — the home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

Those maneuvers have in more recent years been moved to the Black Sea port of Odessa where Ukraine also has a naval base.

An explanatory note accompanying Turchynov’s request to parliament said the naval section of Sea Breeze would this time be conducted over a 25-day span between July and October out of two Odessa ports and “along the waters of the Black Sea.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 1 won authority to use force against Ukraine after three months of deadly protests in Kiev brought down a pro-Kremlin regime and replaced it with new leaders seeking closer ties with the West.

The resulting security crisis has set off the worst diplomatic standoff since the Cold War era and prompted the European Union to conduct urgent consultations aimed at weening itself off its dependence on Russian natural gas.

One warship standing

Kremlin forces on Tuesday stormed the last Ukrainian ship in Crimea and are now in complete military control of the Belgium-sized cape of two million mostly Russian speakers.

Kiev’s Military and Political Studies Centre director Dmytro Tymchuk said his calculations showed the Russian flag flying over all but 10 of the 61 naval ships Ukraine had until last month.

But only one of Ukraine’s remaining vessels — the Odessa-based frigate Getman Sagaydachniy — is an actual warship while the rest are mostly cutters and utility craft.

Both the United States and NATO have expressed grave concern about Russia’s recent military buildup along Ukraine’s eastern border and have warned Putin repeatedly not to push his troops beyond the annexed peninsula.

Yet Western powers have also flatly refused to get militarily involved in the conflict and analysts doubt that Putin will feel particularly threatened by the planned war games.

“Putin is now certain that none of the NATO members intend to fight for Crimea,” said Oleksiy Melnyk of Kiev’s Razumkov political research center.

Russians in Transdniestr

One of the West’s more recent worries has concerned a possible push by Moscow into Transdniestr — a separatist sliver of land in the east of the impoverished ex-Soviet republic of Moldova whose officials asked last week to be absorbed by Russia.

US Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove — also NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe — warned on Sunday that a “very, very sizable and very, very ready” Russian force was ready to seize the region of 2.3 million people at any time.

Russia’s defense ministry confirmed on Wednesday that it had conducted two sets of “planned” military exercises in Transdniestr since Friday.

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