- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Pentagon will begin shipping nonlethal military aid to Ukraine and extend the deployment of fighter jets providing security to Poland in response to what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Russia’s “dangerously irresponsible” actions.

Mr. Hagel on Thursday said the United States will send a variety of support items, including helmets, sleeping bags, generators, medical supplies and water-purification units while officials mull over whether to provide additional support to the country.

The defense secretary made the announcement Thursday during a joint press briefing with Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak, during which he also said a dozen F-16 jets that flew to Poland in March will stay in the country until Dec. 31.

Normally, the Pentagon sends a squadron of airplanes — either C-130 transport aircraft or F-16 jets — to Poland on a quarterly basis.

The plan to keep a fleet of fighter jets there on standby will augment that rotation, Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said.

Poland, a NATO ally, is taking precautionary measures in response to recent Russian claims that it is concerned about the Russian minority living along its borders.

“We want to watch our interests, and we are making a significant effort to modernize our armed forces,” Mr. Siemoniak said.

Reuters reported in mid-March that Russia expressed concern over Estonia’s language policy, which could spark segregation. The logic is similar to that which Russia used to justify its decision to annex Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, according to Reuters.

Mr. Siemoniak’s visit to the Pentagon comes as his country is preparing to take over NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission.

On May 1, the U.S. military will hand over to Poland the reins of the ongoing operation that protects the airspace over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Normally, the mission consists of four aircraft that fly solely out of Lithuania, said Lt. Col. Jay Janzen, a spokesman for NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe.

At the request of NATO’s Baltic allies, the Pentagon decided to bolster that mission with extra F-15 fighter jets and an additional 65 airmen, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said.

Meanwhile, NATO is preparing to send one of its standing maritime forces to the Baltic Sea to enhance security in the region as part of an expanding NATO military contingent.

That force is currently assembling in Kiel, Germany, according to NATO officials.

Another set of ships is also moving toward the Mediterranean, departing from somewhere near the coast of Scotland, a NATO official said.

• Maggie Ybarra can be reached at mybarra@washingtontimes.com.

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