Military advisors from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom are on hand in Ukraine to offer training to the embattled country’s National Guard. Exercises involving the U.S. with their Ukrainian counterparts began. The Russian Defense Ministry responded to the Fearless Guardian exercise on April 23 and claimed that U.S. personnel have been seen in the combat zone disputed by Ukraine with Russian military and pro-Russia militia in the eastern area of the country. Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov denounced claims that Russia has bolstered its air defense units in the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions of Ukraine as “astonishing in its incompetence.”
 
Russia claims that the presence of troops from the US, UK, and Canada violates the Minsk Agreement that was signed by the government of Ukraine with the armed pro-Russia forces.
 
On April 22, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said that it’s currently “the highest amount of Russian air defense equipment in eastern Ukraine since August” of 2014. Konashenkov claimed that the U.S. is seeking to  “warm up” the public ahead of the May 13-14 NATO summit to be held in Antalya, Turkey. He said that the world should be more concerned over the presence of U.S. troops in Ukraine who are allegedly training the Ukrainian National Guard in urban warfare. “But it's not happening at the Yavorov training site in the Lvov Region [in western Ukraine] as reported by Ukrainian TV, but directly in the combat zone near Mariupol, Severodonetsk, Artyomovsk and Volnovakha,” he said.
 
The Russian general said that Russia no longer has any need for air defense units in eastern Ukraine since, he said, “we all know, that there’s hardly any aircraft left in the Armed Forces of Ukraine." Ukraine’s air force was small to begin with, before the onset of the conflict with Russia-backed forces. In a sarcastic tone, the spokesman said that he feared that the U.S. will fabricate threats against Ukraine to blame on Russia. He said he would not be “surprised if it gets blamed for deploying a carrier strike group in the Lugansk Region or illegal entry of a Russian nuclear submarine in the main city pond of Donetsk,” he said.
 
The Pentagon denied Russia’s claims that American troops are now in combat zones. Pentagon spokesperson Eileen Lainez said the Russian claims are a “ridiculous attempt to shift the focus” from its own activities. "Russia continues to supply lethal weapons, training and command and control support for armed separatists in eastern Ukraine, in blatant violation of Moscow's Minsk commitments and Ukraine's sovereignty," said Lainez, according to Reuters.
 
Currently, approximately 290 paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade came from their base in northern Italy to train 900 Ukrainian counterparts. They will remain for 24 weeks.
 
Last week, some 290 paratroopers of the US 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vincenza, Italy, have arrived in Ukraine to provide training for local the National Guard units.
In the Minsk-2 Agreement, which was negotiated by leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine in February,  the contending sides agreed to pull out heavy weapons such as artillery and armor, and to engage in political dialogue and constitutional reform so as to reintegrate the regions of Ukraine now held by pro-Russia forces.  
 
A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Aleksandr Lukashevich, said Russia is “gravely concerned” by the presence of U.S. and allied military advisors in Ukraine. “This begs the question: Do they – in Washington, London and Ottawa – understand whom are we talking about? As they are the same Ukrainian ultra-nationalists from volunteer battalions, who wore Nazi emblems and stained themselves with the blood of women, children and the elderly during reprisal raids in Donbass [south-eastern Ukraine],” he said. “What will these foreign military experts teach them – how to continue killing those, who speak Russian?” the spokesman continued. 
 
Lukashevich views the training program as a “first step towards the supply of modern US arms to Ukraine, which the ‘party of war’ in Kiev is so eager to get its hands on,” which “may lead to the resumption of bloodshed” in the south-east of Ukraine. Lukashevich said that the Minsk deal calls for “the withdrawal of all foreign forces, military equipment, as well as mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine under the supervision of the OSCE. Instead, a US Airborne Brigade has landed near Lvov and intends to settle there for long.”
 
“The Obama administration, which verbally advocates the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis, is, in fact, contributing to the disruption of the Minsk agreements,” he said. “It’s obvious, that the US troops on Ukrainian soil won’t bring it peace,” Lukashevich concluded.
 
Dennis Pushilin, the permanent representative for the self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic of eastern Ukraine, asserts that a “third party” is to be blamed for the provocations. They might be privately-funded nationalist units that are not necessarily under the control of Kiev, he said. Rogue cells among these nationalists still exist, he said. “These battalions only half obey the central government. All provocations occur where Azov and Right Sector battalions are concentrated. Namely Shirokino area, Donetsk airport and Avdeyevka. This pushes the situation to a new conflict,” Pushilin said. “They want a new war and new blood. They aim to involve the Ukrainian armed forces in the conflict, although the Ukrainian army to a greater degree follow orders,” Pushilin said.
 
Over 6,000 people have died in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has lasted for more than a year, according to the UN. over a year, according to conservative UN estimates. In March, NATO Under-Secretary Alexander Vershbow told a conference in Latvia that Russia has been increasingly unable to conceal that it has lost "thousands and thousands" of troops to the fighting in Ukraine. This was disputed forcefully by Russia's foreign ministry.
 
“Earlier this year,” Warren said, “Canada joined the United States-Ukraine joint commission. We look forward to continuing our long-standing defense relationship while undertaking this important endeavor.”
 
DoD officials announced March 20 about 290 U.S. service members from the Vicenza, Italy-based 173rd “Sky Soldiers” Airborne Brigade, would go to the International Peacekeeping and Security Center in Yavoriv, near the Polish border, and train six Ukraine National Guard companies with a focus on internal security and territorial defense in western Ukraine.
 
Russian Actions
 
Col. Steve Warren briefed reporters at the Pentagon about the exercises in Ukraine. Instruction to be provided by U.S. personnel include medical training, casualty evacuation, counter-unmanned-aerial-vehicle tactics, counter-insurgency training, counter-improvised-explosive-device training, and more.
 
Human rights and use-of-force training also will be conducted, along with common soldier and collective tasks such as individual conduct and law of war, first aid, survival, land navigation, communication, unit operations, and counter-chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear training.
 
Warren also spoke to the increased Russian military presence elsewhere. Soviet military aircraft have recently resumed tactics from the Cold War, such as flying bombers on routes very close to the airspace of NATO countries. As for the presence of Russian naval vessels now in the English Channel, Warren said “We know our allies, the [British], are tracking them very closely as are we, ….We’ve often said that nations have the ability to travel through international waters as long as they respect all international standards of conduct and territorial integrity, and laws.”
 
As for the Minsk Agreement, Warren said that there is “no question” Russian-backed separatists have “repeatedly” violated the terms of the agreement. “This is something that we keep a very close eye on,” he said. “[There’s] also no question that the Russians continue to operate inside of Ukrainian territory.”
 
Warren said that Russia has devised training facilities in eastern Ukraine where separatists are being trained in gunnery and artillery firing skills. “We also know that they continue to maintain advanced surface-to-air missile systems near the front line which is in direct violation of the Minsk agreements,” he said. Warren added that Russia has command and control elements inside of Ukraine that are helping to coordinate military operations there. “So [these are] all examples of the Russians continuing to provide support to the separatists,” he said.
 
Specific blocks of instruction include medical training, casualty evacuation, counter-unmanned-aerial-vehicle tactics, counter-insurgency training, counter-improvised-explosive-device training, and more, Warren said.
 
Human rights and use-of-force training also will be conducted, along with common soldier and collective tasks such as individual conduct and law of war, first aid, survival, land navigation, communication, unit operations, and counter-chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear training.


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