- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The four-star general in charge of military operations in Europe said Wednesday that the U.S. government may nix a plan to train 600 Ukrainian security forces in the western part of the country next month.

Supreme Allied Commander of Europe Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove indicated to reporters at a Pentagon briefing that the training was in jeopardy due to increased tension between Ukraine and Russia.

Pentagon officials had previously planned to send soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in northeast Italy to Ukraine to teach the country’s national guard troops how to strengthen their law enforcement capabilities and maintain “rule of law.”

Analysts have said that the military-to-military coaching lesson would not be enough to solve any of Ukraine’s problems, but doing something to help an ally is always better than leaving that ally in a lurch.

Now, officials say those training plans are under review and unstable. Gen. Breedlove confirmed the rumblings of those officials by telling reporters that the previously scheduled mentoring and training initiative is in the “if” stage.

“Everything we’re doing in Ukraine now, we take a look at because what we don’t want to do is worsen any current situation,” he said. “So we don’t do anything on automatic as it relates to Ukraine.”

Following the briefing, The Washington Times asked Gen. Breedlove to clarify whether he intended to cancel or simply delay the training of Ukraine security forces. The general declined to refine his remarks and simply stated: “Nothing we’re doing is on automatic.”

Pentagon officials say that Gen. Breedlove declined to elaborate on his statement because, ultimately, he does not have the authority to waylay the training. That directive will trickle down from White House staff, said Navy Capt. Gregory Hicks, a spokesman for U.S. European Command.

“The decision on conducting the training still rests with the White House and the administration,” Mr. Hicks told The Times. “As stated, we are reviewing everything we do in Ukraine as conditions may or may not change week by week or even day by day. There is really no way to forecast how long the Administration may wait or not, but suffice to say the decision will be made with the most update and relevant information they can gather to make the best, informed decision.”

Concern about the training surfaced after Ukraine and Russia continue to fight in eastern Ukraine despite committing to the framework for a new peace agreement in Minsk, Belarus, in early February.

The fighting prompted Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to call on the United Nations to send international peacekeepers to the region. Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, publicly denounced Mr. Poroshenko’s request and said it raised “suspicions that he wants to destroy the Minsk accord,” BBC News reported.

To date, the U.S. government has committed $118 million to equipment and training to Ukraine’s security forces to assist them in their battle against the Russians. That money has been used to purchase body armor, helmets, trucks, patrol boats and medical supplies for the Ukrainians.

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

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