The United States is concerned about reports of increased violence in Ukraine, and continues to call on Russia to de-escalate the situation, Pentagon officials said yesterday (April 15).
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen echoed the U.S. concern during a media availability in Luxembourg on the same day.
There has been no substantial change in the number or composition of the Russian forces on Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders, Army Col. Steve Warren, a Defense Department spokesman, told reporters at the Pentagon.
“The Russians continue to have tens of thousands of troops arrayed along the Ukrainian border,” he said, “and again I would like to reiterate that we have repeatedly called on the Russians to withdraw those troops from the border and help de-escalate the situation in Ukraine.”
Ukrainian troops are moving to flush pro-Russian militias from cities in the eastern part of the country, the U.S. Department of Defence said. In a call with President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he is not interfering in Ukraine, and that U.S. contentions that Russia is interfering are based on erroneous information.
“The American government is under no illusions that the Russian government continues to array its troops along the Ukrainian border,” Warren said. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the evidence is compelling that Russia is supporting these efforts to destabilize Ukraine.
The United States continues to support Ukraine, Warren said, and U.S. officials have conducted defense consultations with Ukraine recently. The consultations did not address current operations, he added. The senior Defense Department representative at the talks was Evelyn Farkas, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia.
Rasmussen said NATO is concerned about the continued violence by small groups of separatists, and Russia’s continued military pressure on Ukraine’s borders.
“I call on Russia to de-escalate the crisis, to pull back its troops from Ukraine’s borders, to stop de-stabilizing the situation in Ukraine, and make clear that it doesn’t support the violent actions of pro-Russian separatists,” the secretary general said.
“Russia should stop being part of the problem, and start being part of the solution,” he added.
The NATO chief said the alliance is considering further steps to strengthen collective defense. This could include appropriate deployments, he said.
The U.S. has sent its guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook to the Black Sea, saying that the ship will participate in exercises and operations to improve interoperability, readiness and enhance relationships with its allies in the region.
Press Release, April 16, 2014, Image: NATO