Russian warplanes have entered Ukraine airspace several times within the past 24 hours, conducting what one Pentagon official describes as “small probes.”
Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said Friday evening that the Russians have made “a handful of incursions” into Ukranian airspace. Col. Warren told The Washington Times that the Pentagon is asking Russia “to take immediate steps” to reduce tension along the Ukraine border.
“We call on the Russians to help deescalate the situation and not contribute to the deepening of this crisis,” he said.
Earlier Friday, Mr. Warren said that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has attempted to contact Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu regarding the uptick in tension between the two countries but to no avail.
Mr. Shoigu raised concern among Defense Department officials after he announced Thursday that Russia planned to engage in a new series of military exercises near the Ukraine border. The military move, Mr. Shoigu said, is in response to ongoing NATO training exercises in Poland and the death of at least two pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine.
Currently, the country has “a broad array of forces aligned along the Ukranian border,” Col. Warren said.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s acting Defense Minister Mikhail Koval is saying that neither Russian troops nor aircraft have crossed into Ukraine during a military exercise. He made the comment while speaking to reporters on Saturday, the InSerbia Network Foundation website reported.
A separate Defense Department official said Saturday that the Pentagon had no comment on Mr. Koval’s contradicting statement.
The Daily Beast is reporting that high-level contact between the Obama administration and the Kremlin has come to an abrupt halt. The last time President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to one another was on April 14, according to The Daily Beast.
But Col. Warren told The Times that the relationship between the United States and Russia has not frozen over yet. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey spoke with his counterpart, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia Gen. Valery Gerasimov, just yesterday, he said.