US Army to proceed with planned exercise in Ukraine
Paratroopers from Attack Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) provide security from a vehicle during a tactical control point exercise July 10, 2013, during Exercise Rapid Trident in Yavoriv, Ukraine.
VICENZA, Italy — Atlas Vision is canceled. But Rapid Trident is still a go.
The status of two annual U.S. Army Europe military exercises that were scheduled for July — one in Russia, one in western Ukraine — is being affected differently by the situation in Ukraine, which has been described as the worst crisis since the end of the Cold War. The fact that the U.S. and its allies chose to go ahead with an exercise in Ukraine while canceling the one in Russia demonstrates Western support for Kiev in its confrontation with Moscow.
On March 3, the Pentagon announced that all exercises, bilateral meetings, port visits and planning conferences with Russia were off.
Air Force Lt. Col. David Westover, a spokesman, said the U.S. European Command had been in the planning stages for Atlas Vision 2014, which was to take place in July in Chelyabinsk, in northeastern Russia, and focus on joint peace-keeping operations. But because of the crisis, “all planning for this exercise has been suspended,” he said.
However, planning for Rapid Trident 2014 — a large, USAREUR-led multinational exercise scheduled for July — is ongoing, he said.
That exercise, in Lviv, near the Polish border, is to “promote regional stability and security, strengthen partnership capacity, and foster trust while improving interoperability between USAREUR, the land forces of Ukraine, and other (NATO and partner) nations,” according to the USAEUR website.
In addition to USAREUR troops, Rapid Trident 2014 will include units from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Georgia, Germany, Moldova, Poland, Romania, the United Kingdom and Ukraine, Westover said. It will feature a combined U.S. and Ukrainian battalion headquarters practicing a peacekeeping operation, he said. “Exercise planning will continue until we are told otherwise.”
Last year’s exercise lasted two weeks and included about 1,300 troops. It focused on “airborne and air-mobile infantry operations,” according to a report on the Rapid Trident website.
In the meantime, the crisis in Ukraine shows few signs of a quick resolution. Russian troops are occupying the country’s Crimean peninsula, and a disputed referendum there will decide whether the region will secede from Ukraine and eventually join with Russia.
On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is considered key in dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin, said that “the territorial integrity of Ukraine cannot be called into question.” The same day, President Obama vowed to “stand with Ukraine” during a White House visit by Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the besieged country’s pro-Western acting prime minister.
Westover said if relations were normalized between the West and Russia, Atlas Vision might or might not be rescheduled.
“Obviously without proper prior planning, conducting an exercise of this nature becomes difficult and jeopardizes our ability to participate,” he said