Hagel Urges Ukrainian Military to Stay Out of Unrest
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2014 Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is deeply troubled by the escalating violence in Ukraine and has urged the country's armed forces not to get involved in the uprising unfolding in Kiev, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said.
Hagel "is deeply troubled by the violence there and shares the outrage of so many over images of Ukrainian Ministry of Interior forces firing automatic weapons at their own people," Kirby told reporters. "He urges the Ukrainian armed forces to continue to refrain from participating in the conflict, a conflict that can and should be resolved politically."
Scores of people have been killed over the past two days in protests against the Ukrainian government by those demanding stronger trade and political ties with the European Union and for President Viktor Yanukovych to step down.
American embassy employees in Kiev indicate the Ukrainian armed forces are protecting military facilities, including weapons and ammunition storage facilities. Service members are not involved in the violence against protesters, Kirby said. "We certainly hope that remains the case," he said during a news conference.
Despite repeated efforts, Hagel has not been able to speak to his Ukrainian counterpart Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedyev. "We are continuing our efforts to arrange for the secretary to communicate directly with Minister Lebedyev, but so far, the Ministry of Defense has been unresponsive to our requests," Kirby said.
Hagel spoke to the minister in December, a month after the protests began to express concern then that Ukrainian troops stay out of the political arena.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has fired his chief of defense and replaced him with the Navy commander.
Despite the widespread violence in the heart of Kiev, the State Department has not requested military assistance of any kind, Kirby said. "But you know very well, we are a planning organization. That is what we do.," he said. "Our job is to help provide options."
U.S. European Command commander, Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, has had military resources and assets available should there be a need. "There's no specific planning being undertaken right now to evacuate American citizens from Ukraine," Kirby said. "If they ever do get to the point in any country where they need to evacuate, they have many options at their disposal. We are only one of them, and we are usually not the first one."