(Adds U.S. halting trade and investment talks, comment from
By Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON, March 3 The United States on Monday
suspended all military engagements with Russia, including
military exercises and port visits, as Washington sought ways to
punish Moscow over its military intervention in Ukraine without
escalating the crisis.
The announcement from the Pentagon came hours after
President Barack Obama warned the U.S. government will look at a
series of economic and diplomatic sanctions that would isolate
Moscow. The United States also put trade and
investment talks with Russia on hold.
"We call on Russia to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine and
for Russian forces in Crimea to return to their bases," Pentagon
spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.
The U.S. military does not take such steps lightly and took
no such action, for example, last year during turmoil in Egypt
that saw the army topple the country's first freely elected
leader. Military-to-military contacts help bridge gaps between
nations and reduce chances of misunderstandings, officials say.
"For us to cancel them is a major statement," said retired
Army Brigadier General Kevin Ryan, a former defense attache at
the U.S. embassy in Moscow and now director of the Defense and
Intelligence Project at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy
School of Government.
Kirby said that although the Defense Department found
"value" in military-to-military relations with Russia, "we have,
in light of recent events in Ukraine, put on hold all
military-to-military engagements." Its suspension also applied
to bilateral military meetings and planning conferences, he
Still, the decision does not severe all ties and top-level
dialogue could continue, leaving open the possibility of more
calls like the one Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had on Saturday
with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Hagel warned at the time that Russia's intervention risked
an escalation that could threaten European and international
security. One U.S. official, speaking on
condition of anonymity, described Shoigu as terse in the call.
Despite an international outcry over actions in Ukraine,
Putin has shown little sign of backing down, and Russia has
built up armored vehicle presence near Crimea and staged
military maneuvers in what appears to be a show of strength.
U.S. officials have dismissed the possibility of military
options, which could further escalate the standoff, and the
Pentagon appeared at pains to quash any speculation the U.S.
armed forces were poised to get involved.
"Some media outlets are speculating on possible ship
movements in the region. There has been no change to our
military posture in Europe or the Mediterranean," Kirby said.
Kirby added U.S. Navy units were conducting routine,
previously planned operations and exercises in the region.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Mark
Felsenthal and Jeff Mason; Editing by Peter Cooney, Ken Wills
and Lisa Shumaker)