In Europe - East, Ukraine

Press TV (Iran), June 27, 2016  (two additional news reports further below)

Opening ceremony on June 27 of Rapid Trident 2016 (U.S. Army Europe)

Opening ceremony on June 27 of Rapid Trident 2016 (U.S. Army Europe)

Member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, including forces from the United States, have launched a large-scale military exercise in western Ukraine. The war games, dubbed Rapid Trident 2016, kicked off at 9 am local time on June 27 at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center (IPSC) in Yavoriv in western Ukraine, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said.

At least 2,000 troops from more than 14 NATO member states and their partners in eastern Europe are attending  the exercises, according to the ministry. The maneuvers will involve military equipment, including armored vehicles, military helicopters and aircraft. The first part of the annual military exercise will come to an end on July 8.

Conducted annually, Rapid Trident this year involves Ukraine, the United States, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Georgia, The United Kingdom, Moldova, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden and Turkey.

Earlier this month, NATO held another 10-day military drill, Anakonda 2016, involving some 31,000 troops from Poland, the U.S., and 17 other nations in Poland. [See: Moscow calls NATO buildup in E. Europe ‘unjustified’ as largest drills since Cold War kick off, June 6, 2016.]

Russia, wary of the increased presence of NATO troops close to its borders, has warned of unspecified measures to respond to the increased activities by the Western military bloc. NATO has stepped up its military buildup near Russia’s borders since it suspended all ties with Moscow in April 2014 after Crimea re-integrated into the Russian Federation following a referendum vote one month earlier, on March 15.

Ukraine’s eastern provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk have witnessed deadly clashes between pro-Moscow forces and the Ukrainian army since Kiev launched military operations in April 2014 to crush pro-Moscow protests there.

The United States and its European allies accuse Moscow of destabilizing Ukraine. Moscow rejects the accusation that is has a hand in the crisis. It blames the West for the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine that has so far claimed the lives of more than 9,200 people and left over 21,000 others injured.

A U.S. army commander warned earlier this week that NATO was unable to resist against Russian power in the Baltics. The commander of U.S. ground forces in Europe, General Ben Hodges, said that Russian forces could capture Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania “quicker than we could get there to defend them.”

On Saturday, a former Russian commander, Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, said Russia is capable of responding to the increasing NATO military presence by deploying missile systems in the region. The former commander told Interfax that Kaliningrad is the region where Russia plans deploy its Iskander-M tactical missile systems. The missile system consists of two types of missiles– ballistic and cruise– and is capable of destroying targets in a range up to 500 kilometers.

Largest ever U.S.-led military exercise begins in Ukraine, Monday, June 27, 2016

Over 1,800 troops from 14 NATO and “partner nations” have arrived in western Ukraine for the huge Rapid Trident 2016 exercise. Coming amid a fragile truce in the country’s east, they’re set to evaluate the readiness of U.S.-trained Ukrainian troops.

Opening ceremony on June 27 of Rapid Trident 2016 (U.S. Army Europe)

Opening ceremony on June 27 of Rapid Trident 2016 (U.S. Army Europe)

The exercise began in Ukraine’s western region of Lviv on June 27 and is scheduled to last until July 8, according to a statement from U.S. Army Europe. It will involve over 1,800 soldiers from 14 NATO and non-NATO countries along with dozens of combat vehicles, aircraft and heavy weaponry. It is said to be the largest multinational war games ever to be held in Ukraine.

The exercise takes place at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center (IPSC) in the Lviv region, where troops will train “interoperability among Ukraine, the U.S., NATO and Partnership for Peace [non-bloc] members,” the official official statement added.

“Multinational exercises have been conducted in Ukraine since 1995. However it is safe to say that this is the largest multinational exercise held in Ukraine to date,” Don Wrenn, public affairs official of U.S. Army Europe, told Newsweek last Monday.

Local authorities and Rapid Trident commanders have already warned residents of road closures, restrictions on civilian vehicles to use public highways, massive convoy movements, small arms fire as well as low-altitude helicopter flights.

U.S. Army Europe said Rapid Trident is expected to focus on “the validation phase for the [Ukrainian] Ministry of Defense unit,” which has undergone rigorous training provided by the U.S.-run Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine (JMTG-U).

The program, which lasts until December 2016, involves dozens of U.S. soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. They began training up to five battalions of Ukraine’s military and one battalion of special operations forces last November.

It’s the first time the Pentagon has directly trained and equipped regular active-duty Ukrainian troops. Previously, U.S. instructors trained several battalions of the National Guard, widely believed to be penetrated by the Ukrainian far-right and nationalists keen to keep up fighting in Donbass, where a fragile ceasefire between the government and rebel forces is in effect under the Minsk peace accords.

Earlier in June, National Guard soldiers were also visited by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko who said they need to get real-life combat experience in Donbass to learn “what it looks like to be on the frontline.”

Rapid Trident 2016 comes as NATO continues its massive build-up in Eastern Europe involving stationing thousands of troops, heavy weaponry and logistics across Baltic countries and Poland. At the upcoming Warsaw summit in July, the bloc members are expected to give the green light on deployment of four battalions to the region.

NATO has also increased the pace and scale of large multinational military exercises. Anakonda 2016, said to be the largest war game in Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War, brought over 31,000 troops from 24 countries to Poland to simulate retaliation of “Russian aggression” against the country.

Moscow maintains that stepping up NATO’s military presence in Eastern Europe and the Baltics is unjustified, stressing that Russia has no plans whatsoever to invade any country in the region.

Also on
Putin promises response to foreign pressure by strengthening Russian military forces

U.S., NATO thumb noses at Russia with massive war games in Ukraine

Fox News, June 27, 2016

Nearly 2,000 troops from the United States and allies launched a massive military exercise in Ukraine Monday, the latest in a series of war games that NATO officials say would simulate counterattacks against “Russian aggression”.

“Today’s presence here of such a powerful cohort of our partners and comrades in arms demonstrates the broad international support for the struggle of the Ukrainian nation for sovereignty and territorial integrity as a democratic European state,” Ukrainian Col. Eduard Moskalyov said.

The exercise, known as Rapid Trident 16, is set to last two weeks in western Ukraine. It includes troops from Ukraine and 12 other nations, members of NATO or its ‘Partnership for Peace’ program: Bulgaria, Canada, Georgia, Great Britain, Moldova, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Turkey and the United States. U.S. officials say it includes situational and field training drills.

Russia, which took over the Crimean Peninsula [sic] in 2014, ramped up the pressure earlier this month after NATO defense ministers agreed to station additional forces in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland — all near Russian borders.

“Those measures significantly erode the quality of regional security, in fact turning central and eastern Europe into an arena of military confrontation,” Russia’s ambassador to NATO Alexander Grushko said, adding that NATO’s decision “directly infringes on our legitimate security interests” and “won’t be left unanswered”.

The NATO allies also discussed establishing a Romanian-led multinational “framework brigade” of ground troops to help defend the Black Sea area.

Grushko also criticized NATO’s pledge to offer non-lethal assistance to Ukraine, saying it could encourage its reluctance to abide by the Minsk-2 peace agreement for eastern Ukraine. The deal has helped reduce hostilities in eastern Ukraine, but fighting has continued and a political settlement has stalled.

More than 9,300 people have been killed in fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists [sic] in eastern Ukraine, which erupted in April 2014 weeks after Moscow’s invasion of Crimea.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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