Stepping up its assets in the region just days before a highly contested referendum in neighboring Ukraine, the U.S. military announced it will soon send a squadron of C-130 transport aircraft to Poland.
The squadron will head to Powidz Air Base on March 31 as part of a routine training mission that occurs in Poland four times a year, according to Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren.
The Air Force Times reported yesterday that the aircraft, along with 100 men, will fly out from Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
The deployment comes as Russia is flexing its military muscle with new activity near the Ukraine border — apparently in response to an earlier announcement by the Pentagon to send 12 F-16 fighter jets to Lask Air Base, Poland, for an unscheduled training session.
Russia has sent six Su-27 fighters and three military transport aircraft to Belarus to counterbalance what Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has described as a “NATO military buildup” near his country, according to Russia Today.
Belarus and Poland share a border. And now both are playing host to two foreign militaries locked in a fierce dispute over the Russian invasion of the Crimea peninsula in southeast Ukraine.
Still, Col. Warren told The Washington Times on Friday that the Pentagon does not believe the F-16 training exercise or the rotational deployment of C-130s to Powidz Air Base will exacerbate tension between Russia and the West.
“I would submit that the Russians flowing into Crimea is probably what caused [that tension],” he said.
Separately, the Pentagon has also contributed a KC-135 air refueling tanker and six F-15 fighter jets to Lithuania to safeguard Baltic airspace — and is in the process of providing Ukraine with military support equipment, according to Col. Warren.
The Pentagon will be shipping 25,000 cases of ready-to-eat meal packets, known as MREs, to Ukraine in the near future, he said. The food packets are high in calories and designed to sustain a soldier while he is participating in a training exercise or military operation.
Col. Warren declined to describe other equipment that Ukraine has requested from the United States, noting only that it contains a broad range of “logistical and support type of equipment” that is currently under review.
But he did rule out the transfer of any major U.S. weapons system to the region.
The Ukrainians “haven’t asked for tanks or any major weapons system,” the colonel said.