On 9 December,Lieutenant General Ben Hodges,commander,US Army Europe,briefed reporters at the Pentagon on the current situation in Eastern Europe.The Russian snap exercises,there's never an observer there,said LTGEN Hodges.We kind of find out about them when they're happening.And so that kind of capability that they have,where you could show up at a training area in Kaliningrad or Belarus,or both at the same time,you could see that's a threat or concern that we have because of the lack of transparency.The Russians can operate on their interior lines and quickly shift forces around,so all the exercises conducted by the US and its NATO allies place a heavy emphasis on speed:the speed to recognise a potential crisis;speed to act politically;and speed of assembly and movement of troops to the point of crisis by road and rail.Speed and proper execution of operation also would depend on interoperability among all the US allies,so that's the focus of training and exercise.*
Russia hasn't allowed independent monitoring of the Minsk agreement to determine their compliance with it.Since September,there have been several cease fire violations and Ukrainians have been killed.Russia has pulled back a lot of heavy equipment from the border area,but the infrastructure remains in place and Russia could quickly ramp up if they wanted to.
In Crimea,Russia has 25,000 soldiers,a credible air defence and its Black Sea fleet which is capable of blocking US and ally access to the Black Sea where Romania,Bulgaria,Turkey and Georgia are located.
Moving westward,Russia has a significant naval and ground force in Kaliningrad,a wedge of land between Lithuania and Poland.That force could effectively cut off access to the Baltic area.Russian officials have talked about Denmark,Sweden and Romania in terms of being nuclear targets-an irresponsible use of words-so you can see why our European allies are nervous.
NATO allies are working on speed of response.The US is contributing a rotational brigade out of Fort Stewart,Georgia to the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.About 1300 vehicles such as tanks and howitzers are set up in Romania,Bulgaria and Lithuania-the European Activity Sets-to increase speed of response.By September 2016,the US expects to add sites in Poland,Estonia and Latvia;and in Hungary by 2017.*
In Western Ukraine,about 400 US troops are training and equipping Ukrainian soldiers as part of Joint Multinational Training Group Ukraine,which also includes British,Lithuanian and Canadian trainers,LTGEN Hodges noted.*
The second phase of this US Fearless Guardian Mission to train and equip Ukrainian forces began in late November.The effort will help Ukraine better monitor and secure its border;operate more safely and effectively;and preserve and enforce its territorial integrity,said Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis,US Navy.Up to five battalions of Ministry of Defence personnel and one battalion of Special Operations Forces are being trained in this phase.The US had previously trained Ukrainian national guard forces.
About 300 US soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade are doing the training.Ministry of Defence Training is at the International Peacekeeping Centre at Yavoniv;and Special Operations Forces training is at Khmelnitsky,CAPT Davis added.