US troops arrive in Poland, Latvia for drills amid rising tensions over Ukraine
The first two waves of US troops have arrived in Poland and Latvia to begin military drills “promoting peace and stability” across Eastern Europe. Tensions continue to mount in the region, as Ukraine teeters on the brink of a civil war.
A contingent of 150 American soldiers arrived in the Polish town of Swidwin on Thursday. Later in the evening another 150 US troops arrived in Riga, Latvian defence ministry confirmed. The two groups will be shortly joined by another 300 troops.
The soldiers will participate in military exercises in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia over the next three months, with a view to reassuring NATO allies in the region.
Earlier the US embassy in Riga explained that a “company-sized contingent” of paratroopers from the U.S. Army Europe’s 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team is to take “part of a series of expanded US land force training activities in the Baltic region and Poland that are scheduled to take place for the next few months and beyond.”
“Through the troop deployment to Latvia the United States continues to demonstrate its commitment to NATO and to our collective defense responsibilities, by conducting additional military exercises, and enhancing security cooperation with its allies and partners in the Baltic and expanded region,” the embassy said.
The US embassy in Latvia also claimed that US forces are prepared to use all of their capabilities “to reassure our Allies that we are prepared for any contingency to meet our Article 5 obligations,” claiming that the brigade will stay in Latvia till the end of the year.
Defense Department spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby, who announced the drills Tuesday, said they sent a clear message to Moscow.
"If there's a message to Moscow, it is the same exact message that we take our obligations very, very seriously on the continent of Europe," Kirby told reporters. Washington has accused Russia of meddling in the affairs of neighboring Ukraine, which is currently embroiled in a crisis that shows no signs of de-escalation.
Moscow categorically denies the accusations and says that Washington has orchestrated the unrest in Ukraine to further its geopolitical ambitions in the region. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told RT on Wednesday that “the Americans are running the show” and he denied claims of a Russian military presence in Ukraine.
In addition, he said that the Russian troops massed along the Ukrainian border had been deployed for routine drills, something that has been verified by international inspectors.
“Ukraine is just one manifestation of the American unwillingness to yield in the geopolitical fight. Americans are not ready to admit that they cannot run the show in each and every part of the globe from Washington alone,” Lavrov said.
In Ukraine, the coup-appointed government in Kiev re-launched an “anti-terror operation” in the east of the country after pledging to cease all violence at four-sided talks between the EU, the US, Russia and Ukraine in Geneva last week.
Government tanks besieged the eastern city of Slavyansk on Thursday, killing five people as part of a self-proclaimed “anti-terror operation.” Pro-Russian activists have taken control of government buildings in the area to protest the coup-appointed government in Kiev, which they view as illegitimate.
The Russian government has condemned the use of violence by the interim Ukrainian government on unarmed civilians in eastern Ukraine.
“In Geneva, we agreed there must be an end of all violence. Next afternoon [interim Ukrainian President Aleksandr] Turchinov declared almost a state of emergency and ordered the army to shoot at the people,” Lavrov told RT.
Russia does not recognize the government that rose to power in Kiev on February 22, following weeks of deadly protests.