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Hagel asks Russians to declare their intentions in Ukraine

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has asked his Russian counterpart to clarify his intentions toward Eastern Ukraine in light of a new round of Russian military exercises in the region.

Mr. Hagel posed the question when he spoke to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu by phone Monday, according to Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby. During that conversation, Mr. Shoigu assured Mr. Hagel that Russian forces will not invade Ukraine.

Reuters, however, indicates that the phone call between the two defense ministers was more contentious than the Pentagon has portrayed it to be. According to Reuters, Mr. Shoigu pointed to the unprecedented increase of NATO military activity near Russia's borders and asked Mr. Hagel to "turn down the rhetoric."

Russian military officials announced last week they would begin a new series of military exercises near the Ukraine border in response to ongoing NATO training exercises in Poland and the Baltic states. Pentagon officials say Russia has tens of thousands of troops stationed along the border it shares with Ukraine.

Overall, 600 U.S. troops will rotate in and out of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland for about a month. The tail end of those U.S. troops arrived in Estonia Monday, according to spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren.

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