US Response to Cease-fire in Ukraine: Warships to the Black Sea, Military Exercises, New Bases along Russia's Border
September 8, 2014
Along with Russian representatives, Kiev officials and representatives of the two self-proclaimed republics in southeastern Ukraine have agreed to a ceasefire, as the contact group met behind closed doors in Belarus. In response to this diplomatic progress, four NATO warships -- from US, France, Canada and Spain -- ominously entered the Black Sea. The US and its allies also announced plans to move tanks and 600 troops for a military exercise in several states along Russia's borders.
Kiev, East Ukraine Militia Agree on Ceasefire
(September 5, 2014) -- Kiev officials and representatives of the two self-proclaimed republics in southeastern Ukraine have agreed to a ceasefire, as the contact group met behind closed doors in Belarus. The two sides accompanied by representatives of Russia and the OSCE were meeting in the Belorussian capital, Minsk, in an attempt to end the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who is now in Wales for the NATO summit, has confirmed the ceasefire agreement on his Twitter account. He has ordered the pro-government forces to stop military actions starting 6 pm local time (15:00 GMT), as stated in the protocol. "I give the order to the chief of the General staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to cease fire, starting from 18.00 [local time] on September 5," Poroshenko's statement says.
He has called on both the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and the OSCE to provide international monitoring of compliance with the bilateral ceasefire. "We must do everything possible and impossible to stop bloodshed and put an end to people's suffering," the president said in a statement posted on his official website. He also expressed hope that both sides would follow the protocol.
Shortly after signing the agreement with Kiev, Representatives of the rebel forces promised to obey the ceasefire if Kiev follows suit. Both Donetsk and Lugansk have said they are ready to lay down arms starting from 15:00GMT.
"Most of the points of the protocol correspond with our demands," Lugansk's leader Igor Plotnitsky said. "However, the ceasefire does not mean a shift from our course of breaking away from Ukraine. This is a compulsory measure," he said.
At 15:00 GMT, Ukraine's National Security Council (SNBO) reported that its troops had halted all military actions.
"According to the decision of the President of Ukraine and the order of the chief of the General staff of the military units of Ukraine, troops in the area of anti-terrorist operations ceased fire at 15.00 GMT," Lysenko said.
Rebels' forces have also issued the same order. "In the execution of the Minsk agreements we stopped fighting at 18:00. This decision has been communicated to all departments," RIA Novosti reported.
With the conflict engulfing the southeastern Ukraine, the region is risking facing an imminent humanitarian catastrophe. Water and electricity supplies have been disrupted, leaving dozens of people without basic essentials. In Lugansk only one hospital appeared to be operational, the OSCE's Special Monitoring Mission reported earlier this week.
Since the conflict significantly deteriorated in mid-April, 2,593 people have died in fighting in the east of the country, the UN reported last week. More than 6,033 have been wounded in the turmoil. The number of internally displaced Ukrainians has reached 260,000, with another 814,000 finding refuge in Russia, the UN said.
Hours before the ceasefire, shelling was reported in Donetsk and there were reports of heavy fighting outside Mariupol, where over two days seven civilians including two children, were killed.
OSCE: 'Good News'
The OSCE's Heidi Tagliavini has welcomed the agreement saying "it is good news." She has revealed that the protocol consists of 12 points, and "the ceasefire is the chief one." However, she has not clarified the remaining 11 points. Journalists have managed to obtain more details from their sources, but this information could not be immediately confirmed.
President Poroshenko also commented on one of the points of the protocol -- "all to all" exchange of prisoners, which he said can take place "soon, maybe tomorrow." Russia has welcomed the ceasefire agreement, Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.
"Moscow hopes that all provisions of the document and agreements reached will be carefully executed by the parties, as well as the continuation of the negotiation process for full settlement of the crisis in Ukraine," Peskov said in a statement.
The participants in the talks will prepare another document -- a memorandum on settling the situation in Ukraine, a Donetsk representative said. In their recent phone call on September 3, the presidents of Russia and Ukraine, Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko, showed a willingness to find an agreement to resolve the months-long conflict in the southeastern Ukraine.
Following the conversation with his counterpart, President Putin laid out a seven-point plan that could help find a solution.
4 NATO Warships to Enter Black Sea
Before September 7 -- Military Source
(September 3, 2014) -- Four NATO warships from US, France, Canada and Spain will reportedly enter Black Sea waters this week, a diplomatic and military source said.
USS Ross, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, French Commandant Birot, Canadian HMCS Toronto, a Halifax-class frigate, and Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbon will enter the Black Sea before September 7, the source told the Itar-Tass news agency.
"[USS] Ross and [Commandant] Birot will pass through the Black Sea straits, September 3," he added, "Spanish and Canadian frigates will enter the waters of the Black Sea, September 6."
At present there's only one NATO ship in the Black Sea -- France's Dupuy de Lome, a surveillance ship designed to collect signals and communications frombeyond enemy lines. According to the Itar-Tass source, the French vessel is expected to leave the Black Sea area on September 5.
In the meantime, NATO neither confirmed nor denied information that its warships are entering the Black Sea.
The Montreux Convention of 1936 states that warships of non-Black Sea states can stay in the Black Sea for no more than 21 days. It adds that the maximum deadweight of a non-regional warship in the area should not exceed 45,000 tons. The frigate was deployed to the region in April- May, and its tour was in turn preceded by the presence of the destroyer USS Donald Cook, sent to the Black Sea in early April.
Despite the convention limits, NATO has managed to increase its presence in the region in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis by constantly rotating warships there. Russia does not approve of what it sees as muscle-flexing by the military alliance in its backyard.
In July this year, the grouping of NATO ships in the Black Sea reached nine vessels, setting a record for the post-Soviet period.
On August 7, the US missile cruiser Vella Gulf entered the Black Sea in what the American Navy described as a move to "strengthen the collective security of NATO allies and partners in the region," according to a statement by the US 6th Fleet. It left the waters at the end of August.
US Prepares Military Drill in
West Ukraine for Mid-September
(September 3, 2014) -- The US and its allies are preparing to stage a military exercise in western Ukraine, close to the Polish border, in mid-September. The joint drill will involve over 1,000 troops from the US and Europe, as well as from Ukraine.
Initially planned for mid-July, the exercise -- code-named 'Rapid Trident' -- was halted due to a significant escalation in the conflict between Kiev and the southeastern regions of Ukraine. Now, as the fighting between the two sides continues, the US Army's European Command (EUCOM) plans to go ahead and stage the exercise on September 16-26.
"At the moment, we are still planning for [the exercise] to go ahead," US Navy Captain Gregory Hicks, spokesman for EUCOM, announced on Tuesday. The annual exercise will take place at Yavoriv training center in the city of Lvov, near Ukraine's border with Poland.
Around 200 US personnel will be involved in the drill, as well as 1,100 others from Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Britain, Canada, Georgia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Spain, EUCOM said.
In addition to staging air force exercises, the United States is moving tanks and 600 troops to Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania for joint maneuvers in October, Reuters reports. The new deployment will replace a more lightly armed force of paratroopers.
Rapid Trident 2014 is designed to "promote regional stability and security, strengthen partnership capacity and foster trust while improving interoperability between the land forces of Ukraine, and NATO and partner nations," according to the US Forces in Europe website. The exercise will be mainly focused on command post drills, patrolling, and dealing with improvised explosive devices.
Despite the involvement of many NATO members, Rapid Trident is not formally a NATO drill. The Ukrainian-American exercises have taken place in Lvov since 2006 under the framework of NATO's broader 'Partnership for Peace,' which Ukraine is part of.
This year's drill will mean the first significant deployment of US troops and other personnel to Ukraine since the crisis erupted. Last year's Rapid Trident, which focused on "airborne and air-mobile infantry operations," according to a report on the Rapid Trident website, brought together 17 NATO countries for joint exercises.
The announcement comes just two days before the NATO 2014 summit is set to open in Wales. The alliance's expansion to Eastern Europe is expected to become one of the main discussions and the 28-member bloc expects, despite internal opposition, to agree on the "more visible NATO presence in the East."
The White House said the US and its allies are set to discuss plans to significantly increase the readiness of NATO response forces. White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that the meetings within the summit are expected to involve discussions on potential trainings, exercises, and other issues regarding infrastructure and other needs in Eastern Europe.
Back in June, US President Barack Obama pledged to invest $1 billion in stepping up America's military presence in Eastern Europe amid the Ukraine crisis. Also that month, Washington vowed additional military help to Ukraine, as well as the potential training of its law enforcement and military personnel.
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