A combat vehicle with pro-Russian gunman on top runs through downtown Slovyansk, Eastern Ukraine, Friday, April 18, 2014. Ukraine is hoping to placate Russia and calm hostilities with its neighbor even as the U.S. prepares a new round of sanctions to punish Moscow for what it regards as fomenting unrest. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky) (Efrem Lukatsky / AP)
Military officials in Europe are pushing back against reports the U.S. was conducting humanitarian assistance projects in Crimea as a ruse to establish a military base in the region.
“Recent media speculation has questioned the cancellation of humanitarian assistance projects in Crimea,” according to a statement released Thursday by European Command. “The school and hospital renovation projects in question were part of EUCOM’s HA program and would have been solely for the benefit of the local school children and community. Rumors that these projects were an attempt to establish a U.S. military base in the region are patently false.”
European Command works hand-in-hand with the Offices of Defense Cooperation and embassies of 17 countries in its area of responsibility to identify humanitarian assistance projects to benefit the civilian population, according to the EUCOM statement.
The projects have been canceled because of “the uncertain security situation in Crimea, which has deteriorated significantly due to Russia’s military intervention, illegal annexation and occupation of that part of Ukraine,” according to the EUCOM statement.
The statement from EUCOM comes just days after the Defense Department announced the Army would send four company-sized infantry units to Eastern Europe, the latest effort to reassure NATO allies in light of Russian aggression in Ukraine.
The 600 paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy, will go to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
Plans call for EUCOM to maintain a rotation of ground forces in those countries for at least the next several months, a Pentagon spokesman said earlier this week.
The companies will conduct live-fire training exercises with local military forces for about one month, then will depart and be replaced by another U.S. Army company, the official said.
The deployment of ground troops is part of bilateral agreements with the four countries and is separate from the broader effort of the NATO alliance to step up military readiness across its vast eastern border.
Last week NATO announced that it would have “more planes in the air, more ships on the water and more readiness on the land” but details of those additional operations have not been made public.
The Army deployment marks the first sustained addition of ground forces into Eastern Europe since Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine’s Crimea region began in late February.