The administration of US President Barack Obama says Washington is “very concerned” about Russian forces near Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders, saying training exercises might not be the only purpose they are there for.
The White House says intelligence from the field has bolstered their skepticism that as early as coming days Moscow might engage in military incursions into Ukraine, an exclusive CNN report said on Friday.
According to Obama administration officials, any possible military incursions would be to protect the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine, transportation lines from Russia to Crimea, or the energy supply to Crimea from Ukraine.
“We’re very concerned, but it’s by no means certain,” a senior White House official told CNN.
Washington’s concerns come as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told his US counterpart Chuck Hagel on Thursday that Russian troops near Ukraine’s border “are there to conduct exercises only” and “they had no intention of crossing the border into Ukraine,” adding that Russia “would take no aggressive action.”
Meanwhile, the US is expanding its war games with allied states in the Black Sea.
This week, a US Navy guided-missile destroyer, the USS Truxtun, conducted a one-day military exercise with the Bulgarian and Romanian navies.
“There are many reasons for exercises with allies, it allows us an opportunity to assure our NATO allies that we support them,” said Shawn Eklund, a public affairs officer for US Naval Forces Europe.
Moreover, the US has stepped up the deployment of its military forces to eastern Europe, including the dispatch of fighter jets and surveillance equipment to Poland and the Baltic states.
This month, six F-15C Eagles and more than 60 American troops arrived at Siauliai air base, Lithuania, while twelve F-16 fighter jets and 300 US soldiers landed in Poland.
On Friday, US officials also said that the US and Poland are seeking to include other NATO allies from eastern Europe in joint aviation drills at the Lask air force base in central Poland.
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