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Naval exercises are among expected casualties of US-Russia row over Ukraine

NAPLES, Italy — Joint exercises and military cooperation are among the expected casualties of a diplomatic fallout between the U.S. and Russia over recent events in Ukraine, U.S. officials say.

The administration will cancel a “big naval event” as part of planned political and economic measures against Russia after its incursion into the Crimea peninsula in southern Ukraine over the weekend, a senior administration official told reporters in a background briefing on Sunday.

The event is the biannual Northern Eagle exercise, which involves the U.S., Norway and Russia, according to a military official acquainted with the deliberations. A planning conference for the exercise on April 13 is expected to be canceled, the official said.

Officials are also discussing pulling out of the annual FRUKUS naval exercise between France, Russia, the United Kingdom and U.S. A midterm planning conference for the exercise is scheduled for April 22-23, the official said, and could be canceled.

Other military-to-military cooperation between the U.S. and Russia may also be suspended, the administration official told reporters.

Defense relations between the U.S. and Russia were strained even before recent events. Russia has repeatedly expressed anger over NATO partnerships with neighboring countries like Ukraine and Georgia, as well as the alliance’s development of a missile defense shield. The U.S. claims the shield is to stop missiles from Iran; Russia insists it is designed to blunt its own missile defense.

The U.S. and NATO have worked with former Soviet nations on defense reforms over the past decade, using programs to destroy outdated equipment, fund professional education for troops, conduct officer exchanges and provide foreign military sales or financing for modern equipment.

Partnering opportunities are run through a working group of a bilateral commission created by the two countries in 2010. Besides high-level discussions on issues such as missile defense and weapons proliferation, the working group has sponsored traditional exchange opportunities, such as a visit last June by Russian engineers to Fort Irwin, Calif., to understand U.S. training on defeating improvised explosive devices.

The U.S. and Russia also share information on counterterrorism and counternarcotics. Before last month’s Olympic Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, the U.S. and Russian militaries discussed coordination on preventing improvised explosive devices.

Russia also provides a key transport route to Afghanistan, known as the Northern Distribution Network. NATO has used the route extensively both in bringing supplies to coalition forces in that land-locked nation and for the withdrawal of equipment heading to Europe as part of the pullout of international combat forces.

Northern Eagle, held every two years in the Barents and Norwegian seas, focuses on joint maritime and maneuvers, from anti-piracy operations to air defense. It was first held in 2004 as a bilateral Russian-U.S. exercise but was opened to Norway in 2008.

FRUKUS, held last year in France, was created by the four nations in 2003 to improve interoperability.

beardsley.steven@stripes.com
Twitter: @sjbeardsley

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