NATO seeks to strengthen ties between its special forces and the Ukrainian army

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Ukrainian Land Forces soldiers conduct squad combat exercises on December 15, 2015, at the International Peacekeeping Security Center. (Adriana M. Diaz-Brown / US Army)

NATO is examining ways to intensify cooperation between Alliance special operations forces and Ukrainian troops, continuing a partnership at a time when Moscow recognizes the presence of Russian agents in the troubled east of the ‘Ukraine.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Thursday at NATO headquarters in Brussels, called on Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine, just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized for the first time a Russian presence there.

“What he (Putin) said today is basically the same as we have said from the start,” Stoltenberg said at a press conference. “He says that Russia has personnel in eastern Ukraine and that personnel have carried out military activities. And that’s what we normally call soldiers.

For more than a year, Moscow has repeatedly denied maintaining a military presence in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists are engaged in a civil war with Ukrainian government forces. However, at his annual press conference in Moscow on Thursday, Putin admitted that Russia was involved.

“We never said that there were no people there who performed certain tasks, including in the military sphere,” Putin told reporters. But he insisted it was not the same as regular Russian troops.

Stoltenberg, along with Poroshenko, called on Russia to withdraw its staff. At the same time, NATO is taking steps to strengthen military cooperation with Ukraine, a non-NATO state. The alliance has established a series of trust funds with Ukraine in areas such as logistics, command and control, logistics, medical services and cyber defense.

Stoltenberg said his talks with Poroshenko focused on potential areas for further partnerships.

“We are also now addressing the potential for increased cooperation, for example with regard to special operations forces and naval capabilities,” Stoltenberg said.

Since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, NATO and some allies have also expanded their training missions in Ukraine.

For example, US Army Europe is now in Ukraine training combat troops as part of an ongoing effort to assist the country’s armed forces.

Poroshenko said his country was grateful for the Allied support, which Kiev hopes to see more of in the coming year.

“Today, we have made plans for the future and discussed new stages of cooperation,” he said.

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Jean Vandiver



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