Hundreds of US paratroopers have arrived in Ukraine over the last week to train its forces fighting pro-Russian rebels in the east, the US army said on Friday, a move Moscow warned could "destabilise" the war-torn former Soviet country.
"We will have about 300 soldiers from the [173rd Airborne] Brigade on the ground providing the training that will last over the next six months," Donald Wrenn, a US army spokesman, told AFP.
The Kremlin on Friday said the arrival of the American paratroopers in Ukraine could ‘seriously destabilise the situation’ in the east of Ukraine.
"The participation of instructors and experts from third countries on Ukrainian territory... of course, does not help to resolve the conflict," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, quoted by Russian news agencies.
Following Yanukovych's ouster and Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in early 2014, a pro-Russian uprising in east Ukraine sparked a conflict that has killed more than 6,000 people, according to the United Nations.
The West accuses Russia of arming the separatists who have taken control of much of eastern Ukraine, a charge that Moscow denies. It has also denied US claims that Russia sent troops to fight alongside the separatists.
Fighting between the separatists and Ukrainian troops is rumbling on in the east despite a February ceasefire agreement.
Training for ‘war-fighting’
The US troops will train Ukraine’s National Guard, a reservist force that was reformed in 2014 to bring volunteers and militia under government control.
"We will be conducting classes on war-fighting functions, as well as training to sustain and increase the professionalism and proficiency of military staffs," Major Jose Mendez, operations officer for the brigade, was quoted as saying on the US Army website.
Ukraine had asked the United States to send the training mission, dubbed Operation Fearless Guardian, according to an article published by the US Army on April 11.
"This training will help them defend their borders and their sovereignty," brigade planning officer Captain Ashish Patel had said in the article.
A ground convoy drove all the way from the brigade's base in northern Italy to the Ukrainian military zone in Yavoriv near the Polish border with vehicles and equipment for the training mission.
The army stressed the equipment was to be used by the US brigade for training purposes and was not to be issued to Ukrainian forces.
A 25-vehicle convoy carrying fifty paratroopers arrived on April 10, while further troops arrived on April 14 and 15, the US Army website said.
Ukraine's defence ministry issued a statement saying that the training would begin with a ceremony on April 20.
Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov had earlier said the US brigade would train about 900 Ukrainian National Guard troops over a six month period, followed by joint war games.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade has already trained with Ukrainian forces elsewhere in Europe, as well as within Ukraine in the multinational Rapid Trident field training exercises in September.
Britain is also deploying some 75 troops to Ukraine to train government forces there, while Canada announced Tuesday that it will send 200 trainers.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2015-04-17