Pentagon: Sending US Troops to Eastern Europe ‘More Than Symbology’

April 22, 2014 - 7:55 PM

173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team

U.S. Army soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Europe’s rapid-reaction force, provide security during a training exercise in Germany in 2012. (Photo: U.S. Army/Spc. Michael Sharp)

(CNSNews.com) – Sending 600 U.S. troops to Poland and the Baltic states for bilateral infantry exercises is intended to send a message to allies and Russia alike, but it also goes beyond symbolism, the Pentagon press secretary said Tuesday.

“Any time you put troops on the ground and doing exercises, in this case for a month at a time, it’s more than symbology,” Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby told a briefing, when asked whether the move was “a purely symbolic step.”

“The kind of work that we're going to be doing is real infantry training – and that’s not insignificant,” he said.

Kirby said a company-sized contingent of paratroopers, around 150 soldiers, would arrive in Poland on Wednesday, to be followed in the coming days by around 450 more headed for Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. The troops are from the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based in Italy.

Kirby linked the war-games directly to the tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

“Since Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, we have been constantly looking at ways to reassure our allies and partners,” he said.

“These exercises were conceived and added on to the – added on to the exercise regimen as a result of what’s going on in Ukraine.”

The message to the people of Poland and the Baltic states was that the U.S. takes seriously its security obligations in Europe, he said.

“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.”

Asked whether the Pentagon believes Russia has designs on the eastern European NATO countries, Kirby replied, “I think, you know, you need to ask President [Vladimir] Putin what his intentions are. What I’ll tell you is that nothing we’ve seen out of Moscow, nothing we’ve seen out of Russia or their armed forces is de-escalating the tension, is making things any more stable in Ukraine or on the continent of Europe.”

It would be “very helpful,” he added, if Russia removed its forces currently deployed near the border with Ukraine and took concrete steps to respect that country’s sovereignty.

The U.S. wants Russia to withdraw an estimated 40,000 troops amassed near Ukraine’s border and to stop what it says is Moscow’s active destabilization of eastern Ukraine. Pro-Russian separatists continue to occupy government facilities in several cities there, in defiance of an agreement reached in Geneva last Thursday between the U.S., Russia, Ukraine and the European Union.