U.S. sending troops to Eastern Europe for military exercises

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The U.S. is sending 600 troops to Eastern Europe to take part in military exercises to “reassure allies and partners” amid growing tensions with Russia over Ukraine's sovereignty.

Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters Tuesday that a roughly a “company-size contingent of paratroopers from the U.S. Europe's 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team airborne, which is based in Vicenza, Italy,” will head to four countries to conduct exercises with local troops.

About 150 soldiers will arrive in Poland on Wednesday, with similar numbers headed to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, in coming days.

“What we're after here is a persistent — a persistent presence, a persistent rotational presence in these exercises,” said Kirby. “So we're going to start — the troops will be in place in all four countries probably by the end of this weekend, maybe Monday, as we — as we get into all four countries."

He said the exercises will last for about a month and that the U.S. would “rotate fresh troops” for further training activities.

Kirby did not say how long the exercises would continue, but said the Pentagon was “looking at trying to keep this rotational presence persistent throughout the rest of this year.”

“But beyond that, it could go beyond the end of this year,” he added. “We just don't know. We're just going to have to see how it goes.”

Other allies could also see U.S. troops arrive for exercises and Kirby said the administration was in discussions with NATO members and other partners.

“Since Russia's aggression in Ukraine, we have been constantly looking at ways to reassure allies and partners,” he added.

“These exercises were conceived and added onto the exercise regimen as a result of what's going on in Ukraine,” said Kirby.

The Obama administration has urged Russia to take steps to de-escalate the crisis in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian militant groups are seeking autonomy from Kiev.

Ukraine and Russia negotiated a diplomatic deal in Geneva last week, but Russian separatists are refusing to stand down after seizing government building and territory in Ukraine.

Vice President Joe Biden in Ukraine on Tuesday warned Russia to stop supporting the militant groups.

“It’s time for Russia to stop talking and start acting,” Biden said.

The administration has said they are prepared to enact further sanctions against Russia in the coming “days” if the Kremlin does not act to honor the Geneva deal.

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