US Army commander in Europe Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges visited Ukraine today, as Pentagon officials confirmed plans to send troops to war-torn Ukraine this spring for a “training operation.”
Officials say the number of troops involved has not been determined at this time, and that the troops are part of an effort to strengthen the “rule of law” in the country.
By “rule of law,” they mean getting the Ukrainian military, which is ratcheting up its conscription, ready to crush eastern rebels, who have been demanding reforms after the new government imposed a series of harsh restrictions on the ethnic Russian east.
So far, the plans are to put the troops in Lviv, in the far west, which should keep the US forces from getting too directly into the nation’s civil war, though officials are saying this is just the “first step in further training,” which means more operations could happen, putting troops closer to the frontlines.
The warning came as 65,000 soldiers appeared to be at battle stations, heightening fears they were about to launch assaults on cities including Odessa and the capital Kiev.
Tensions have reached boiling point with US President Barack Obama saying America and Europe must join forces to impose further sanctions on Russia.
He said that “we’re going to be in a stronger position” when Russian president Vladimir Putin “sees that the world is unified rather than this is just a US-Russian conflict”.
Many European countries are wary of straining their business ties with Moscow.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that there would be “an expansion of existing sanctions in the coming days”.