Russian troops have gathered along the Ukrainian border, but don’t expect them to cross into Ukraine, Russian officials say.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during a phone call Thursday that the troops were participating in military exercises and “that they would take no aggressive action.”
The Pentagon press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said he doesn’t know how many troops are gathered along Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders, but he said it’s “clearly thousands.” And Shoigu was unable to give Hagel a timeline for how long the troops would remain there.
Despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent actions and the lack of detail about the troops near the border, Kirby said Hagel expects “that they will meet their word” about not crossing into Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government has requested military assistance from the Pentagon, a request that officials are currently working through. Kirby said that “it’s fair to say the focus of that review is on the nonlethal side of things.”
The Pentagon is providing ready-to-eat meals to Ukrainian troops, and it’s considering giving the troops medical supplies and uniforms.
Tensions between Russia and the United States have been running high since the incursion into Crimea by Russian troops late last month. Those tensions escalated further Thursday as President Obama and Putin traded sanctions.
But Kirby said the tensions aren’t causing Hagel and other top Pentagon officials to rethink the recently-released 2015 fiscal year budget request or strategy documents.
“No,” Kirby said, when asked if top Pentagon officials were starting to have doubts. He acknowledged that “that’s probably too glib an answer.”
The Pentagon rolled out its budget and a defense-strategy report, which is released every four years and broadly outlines the Defense Department’s strategy, earlier this month.
The 64-page defense review made little mention of Russia, dedicating just one paragraph to the possible risks the country may pose to Washington’s or its allies’ interests.
The document did note that some of Russia’s military actions could “violate the sovereignty of its neighbors” and “present risks,” adding that the United States will try to work with Russia to “reduce the risk of military miscalculation.”
But Kirby said Hagel believes the strategy is “adequate to meet the national-security needs of the country.”