WASHINGTON, Sept. 2, 2014 —
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is “mindful” of how the NATO alliance would have to prove strong enough to send the correct message to Moscow as Russia’s aggression toward the Ukraine grows, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said today.
In a Pentagon news conference, Kirby said the United States would “certainly participate” in any discussion at this week’s NATO summit in Wales concerning the NATO secretary general’s plan for a NATO rapid reaction force that would put about 14,000 troops on the eastern borders of NATO nations, Kirby said.
“Secretary Hagel looks forward to having those discussions,” Kirby said, adding it’s too early to speculate on how the Defense Department would assist in resourcing that force.
The U.S. military has contributed to the Baltic air policing mission, has performed ground exercises in the Baltics and has exercised aggressively in the Black Sea, Kirby said. “So we're constantly looking for new ways,” he added. “We welcome the secretary general's suggestion.”
Hagel has said many times that Russia has galvanized the alliance, Kirby added, and brought into “sharp relief” the need for all NATO partners and allies to continue sufficient and adequate defense spending for their own defense and for the defense of their allies and to look for new ways to combat threats on the continent.
Russia’s capability is more important than the estimated numbers of Russian troops on the ground, Kirby told reporters. Highly capable Russian battalion tactical groups with an estimated 10,000 troops are closer to the border with Ukraine than they were in the spring and “could move literally on a moment's notice,” he added.
Amid seeing Russian support for separatists in addition to Russian conventional and special operations forces inside Ukraine, the U.S. military has not has changed its position that the military activity must stop, Kirby said.
“Those troops need to leave, the support for the separatists needs to stop, and we want those troops pulled away from the border with Ukraine,” he said. “We continue to see action by Moscow that does nothing but increase tensions inside Ukraine and spur additional violence.”
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