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DOD Supports U.S., Allied Response to Russia-Ukraine Crisis

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

The Defense Department is working to support the coordinated U.S. response to Russia’s recent aggression toward Ukraine, and to help Ukraine and U.S. allies and partners in the region, DOD and administration officials said here today.

The United States is focusing diplomatic and economic pressure on Russia to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine, and senior administration and defense officials continue to engage with their Russian counterparts.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry is meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today, for example, and this week the United States announced a $1 billion package of economic assistance to Ukraine, and the European Union announced a $15 billion assistance package.

This morning, President Barack Obama issued an executive order that allows the administration to initiate financial sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian individuals and entities that steal assets, engage in destabilizing activities, or take flight unlawfully. The administration also is imposing visa restrictions on those responsible for violating Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The Defense Department is making substantial contributions to U.S. and international efforts in support of Ukraine. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey summarized the department’s activities this morning in advance of their testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on the president’s fiscal year 2015 defense budget request.

Hagel said he strongly supports the administration’s efforts, including the steps Obama has taken to apply diplomatic and economic pressure on Russia, and the continued collaboration with European partners.

“Earlier this week, I directed the Department of Defense to suspend all military-to-military engagements and exercises with Russia. And yesterday, I announced a series of steps [the department] will take to reinforce allies in Central and Eastern Europe during this crisis,” Hagel told the panel.

The steps include increasing joint training through the DOD aviation detachment in Poland, made up of airmen from the 31st Fighter Wing who train and work with their Polish partners at Lask Air Base in central Poland.

“I was advised this morning that [the partnership at Lask] continues to move forward,” the secretary said, adding that the department also will augment its participation in NATO's Baltic air policing mission. He told the House members that six F-15s have arrived in Lithuania within the past 24 hours.

In his remarks, Dempsey said he is deeply engaged in DOD support of the diplomatic approach to resolving Ukraine's crisis.

“I'm engaged with our NATO allies. I've spoken both yesterday and today with my Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, and will continue to maintain that line of communication,” Dempsey told the panel.

Also this morning, on a White House background teleconference with reporters, senior administration officials discussed details of the new visa restrictions and the executive order released today in support of Ukraine.

“Since the Russian intervention in Ukraine, you have seen us work on several lines of effort to mobilize international unity, to condemn the Russian intervention, to impose cost on Russia for debt interventions so they are isolated politically and economically [and] to provide additional support for the government in Kiev,” a senior administration official said.

The best way to make sure the rights of Ukrainians and ethnic Russians are being protected is to use international monitoring, he said.

“A monitoring team from the [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] has arrived in Ukraine [and] moved out to different parts of the country. The team has an important set of experiences and capabilities to ensure that basic rights are being protected. We believe that that monitoring mission should expand into Crimea and can be the basis for a way of deescalating the crisis,” the official added.

Representing broad international unity, the North Atlantic Council, European allies and G-7 countries all have condemned Russia’s aggression, he added, and the United States has suspended preparatory meetings for the G-8 in Sochi, Russia.

The United States also has cancelled discussions associated with deepening trade and commercial ties with Russia, the official noted, “and with today's actions we take an additional step to impose costs on Russia and those who are responsible for violating Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The executive order gives the United States flexibility to target individuals and entities responsible for violating international law and Ukrainian sovereignty, the official said.

“We are also imposing certain visa restrictions that further impose a cost on individuals responsible for the violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the official said.

The senior administration official added, “There are individuals who have had their visas pulled or will be banned from visas, and those individuals -- who I won't give names or numbers -- do include Russians and Ukrainians.”

Such actions should send a strong message that the United States and its allies intend to impose costs on Russia for the Ukrainian intervention, the official added, and they give the United States flexibility to respond based on Russia's actions, whether positive or negative.