Russian Official Says Troops Won’t Take ‘Aggressive Action’

Russia’s defense minister says troops near Ukraine border are performing a military exercise and won’t cross over.

Troops under Russian command assemble before getting into trucks near the Ukrainian military base they are blockading on Wednesday in Perevalne, Ukraine. The Obama administration has been critical of the Russian action, and the crisis could further delay stalled U.S. nuclear security efforts in Russia.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
March 20, 2014, 2:27 p.m.

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.”

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