| WARSAW, March 11
WARSAW, March 11 The United States will signal
its resolve to protect its NATO allies near Russia's borders on
Tuesday with the start of the first joint military training
exercises in the region since the Kremlin intervened in Ukraine.
In the Black Sea, across the water from the Crimean
Peninsula where Russian military groups have seized control from
Ukrainian authorities, a U.S. navy destroyer will take part in
manoeuvres with Romanian and Bulgarian warships.
To the north in Poland, U.S. fighter jets are arriving at
the central Lask air base to take part in joint exercises, with
Poland's president expected to review the manoeuvres.
The United States stressed that both training drills were
planned before the Ukraine crisis, but they are also a signal of
support for NATO members nervous that if Russia is prepared to
intervene in Ukraine, they could be next.
The exercises underline that it is Washington which has so
far taken the lead in the international response to Russia's
actions in Ukraine, while the European Union, hampered by the
need for consensus among its members, has been less bold.
In Poland - a staunch U.S. ally still haunted by decades of
Russian domination during the Cold War - officials say the scope
of the air exercise was beefed up specifically in response to
the Russian intervention in Crimea.
Speaking on Monday at a Polish rocket defence site, not far
from the Russian Baltic Fleet's base at Kaliningrad, Polish
defence minister Tomasz Siemoniak said the exercise was to have
been smaller, involving only transport aircraft.
But Siemoniak said that after the Russian military
intervention in Crimea, Warsaw asked the Pentagon to send
fighter jets instead. At least 12 F-16 fighters would be
arriving in Poland this week, with 300 service personnel.
"This was our request," said Siemoniak. "We really
appreciate that the reaction was that quick and significant."
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski is scheduled on
Tuesday to visit Lask, which is expected to be the focus of the
The Kremlin has said it acted to protect Russian citizens in
Crimea from attack, and denies invading the region.
In a separate deployment since the Ukraine crisis began,
extra U.S. military aircraft have arrived in Lithuania to take
part in regular NATO air patrols over the Baltic states.
The alliance also said on Monday that it would start
reconnaissance flights over Poland and Romania to monitor the
situation in neighbouring Ukraine. NATO ambassadors gave the
go-ahead to the AWACS flights, acting on a recommendation by the
alliance's top military commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip
Breedlove, a NATO spokesman said.
The U.S. warship taking part in the Black Sea manoeuvres is
the USS Truxtun, a guided-missile destroyer with about 300 crew
which is part of the U.S. Sixth Fleet headquartered in Italy.
Joining it in the exercises will be the Bulgarian naval
frigate Drazki, and three Romanian naval vessels, Bulgaria's
defence ministry said in a statement. The drill would take place
in international waters southeast of the Romanian port of
Constanta, it added.
Constanta lies about 350 km (220 miles) from the Crimean
port of Sevastopol, where Russia's Black Sea fleet leases a
"The goal of the exercise is to increase the operational
compatibility within NATO members' navy vessels, to improve the
mutual understanding and to increase the crews' preparedness at
sea," the ministry said.
It was not expected the exercise would involve any
live-firing. The U.S. military said last week the presence of
the USS Truxtun had been planned weeks in advance, and that the
exercises were routine.
(Additional reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia, Radu
Marinas in Bucharest and David Mardiste in Tallinn; editing by