RUSSIA has condemned the arrival of hundreds of US troops in Ukraine, saying it could “seriously destabilise” the volatile country which is at war with pro-Moscow rebels in the east.
This week 300 troops of the 173rd Airborne Brigade travelled to western Ukraine to spend six months training three battalions of the Ukrainian National Guard in an effort to improve the fighting capabilities of an army that has suffered at the hands of its opponents on the battle field.
The presence of US troops on Ukrainian soil angered Russia, which has always maintained that Western attempts to bring Ukraine closer to the West triggered the violent crisis that has now gripped the former Soviet republic for more than a year.
It has opposed the deployment of foreign troops on Ukrainian territory although both Kiev and Western governments accuse Moscow of sending its army across the border to wage war on Ukraine.
“The participation of instructors and experts from third countries on Ukrainian territory... of course, do not help to resolve the conflict,” a spokesman for president Vladimir Putin said yesterday. “On the contrary, it can seriously destabilise the situation.”
The US military contingent follows in the footsteps of British and Polish troops in training Ukraine’s armed forces, and Canadian troops are also expected to travel to Ukraine.
Major Jose Mendez, operations officer for the 173rd brigade, said: “We will be conducting classes on war-fighting functions, as well as training to sustain and increase the professionalism and proficiency of military staffs.”
Western countries have refused to provide arms to Ukraine but regard training the country’s hard-pressed army as a measure that demonstrates their support for Kiev while at the same time not escalating the conflict.
Moscow’s claim of destabilisation came on the day the United Nations reported that the war has now claimed 6,116 lives, and that it was fearful that repeated violations of a ceasefire, officially in place since February, could worsen the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine.
It also said that some 400 civilians had died on both sides of the frontline since the start of the year from shelling of residential areas or blasts from land mines or unexploded ordinance.
Kiev said yesterday that it wants the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate alleged war crimes committed by rebels in eastern Ukraine.
“We are quite optimistic about more, definitely more, engagement by the ICC,” said Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s foreign minister. He cited the deaths of 30 people during an artillery attack on the southern city of Mariupol in January as one example of a war crime.
Ukraine has claimed more Russian troops have crossed the border this month despite the ceasefire. But these allegations were denied by Mr Putin.