In mid-September the U.S. will send troops to Ukraine in spite of the fierce fighting in that country’s eastern region. American forces will train with the locals alongside other allies.
The deployment is part of an annual training event called Rapid Trident. U.S. European Command has been sharing its knowledge and experience with Ukrainian forces since 1995.
The Army announcement doesn’t explain what training scenarios the troops can expect. Last year’s edition of the same exercise involved honing basic military skills, including helicopter assaults and parachute drops.
The official release also doesn’t say which American units are traveling to the International Peacekeeping and Security Center in Yavoriv. The 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and the California Army National Guard usually deploy troops for this exercise.
The 173rd is one of only two combat brigades the Army still keeps in Europe on a permanent basis. These paratroopers have already visited the Baltic States—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—and Poland this year for other war games.
Since 2000, California Guardsmen have paired up with Ukrainian soldiers as part of the State Partnership Program. This initiative links foreign militaries with U.S. National Guard troops from all 50 states for training and other exchanges.
American troops won’t be the only ones teaming up with their Ukrainian counterparts. Organizers expect 1,300 personnel from 15 nations to attend this get-together.
The Pentagon reportedly began planning this year’s iteration of Rapid Trident last summer. American commanders insist this mock combat has nothing to do with Russia’s support for insurgents in Ukraine.
But Washington dramatically increased the number of military exercises in Europe after the Kremlin forcefully annexed the Crimea region this spring. American officials clearly hope these war games will reassure Ukrainse and nervous NATO allies, some of whom share borders with Russia.
It’s worth noting that Pentagon planners canceled a regularly scheduled annual exercise with Russian troops in March. “Russia is responsible for the violence in eastern Ukraine,” Pres. Barack Obama said unequivocally last week.
The Kremlin can’t be overly happy with the September exercise—or the guest list. Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova are all sending soldiers for Rapid Trident.
Each of these countries is in the middle of a so-called frozen conflict—a sort of miniature Cold War—with separatists or their neighbors. In each case, Russia supports the opposing side.
Kiev is extremely worried that the situation in the Donbass region could turn out the same way. Rebels are demanding Ukrainian authorities recognize their “special status.”
Regardless, foreign troops are unlikely to find themselves caught up in the fighting. The practice area is on the other side of Ukraine from the fighting and fewer than 100 miles from the Polish border.
The force probably won’t act as any sort tripwire for greater Western intervention in the conflict—even if the troops were closer to the action. In 2008, American Marine trainers in Georgia avoided combat as Russian tanks rolled into that country.
But Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko is probably happy for all the support he can get right now. Kiev is “close to a point of no return” with the Kremlin-backed fighters, the country’s embattled leader recently told European leaders.
At top — Ukrainian troops train during Rapid Trident 2013. Army photo