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US special operations chief for Europe heads to Ukraine in aftermath of Russian border buildup

Maj. Gen. David Tabor, right, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, receives a weapons briefing at the 142nd Training Center near Kyiv, Ukraine, April 28, 2021. Service members who train at the facility are familiarized with all weapons systems that they may encounter in the region.

MARGARET DUTART/U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 29, 2021

STUTTGART, Germany — The head of U.S. special operations in Europe met with troops this week in Ukraine, marking the two-star general’s first official visit to a country where a recent Russian military buildup sparked U.S. threat alerts.

Maj. Gen. David Tabor, who leads U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, said the U.S. is looking for ways to expand training efforts in Ukraine.

“U.S. forces in Europe remain committed to collective defense cooperative security alongside European allies and partners,” Tabor said in a statement Wednesday. “By seeking out new training opportunities, we ensure that U.S., allied and partner forces maintain the ability to meet and defeat any number of threats.”

Tabor met with U.S. and Ukrainian service members at the 142nd Training Center, which serves as a hub for that country’s elite forces.

In recent years, U.S. special operators have worked closely with their Ukrainian counterparts to improve their crisis response capabilities. In February 2020, the U.S. gave $1.5 million for improvements at the training site, located not far from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.

Tabor’s meeting in Ukraine was intended to serve as a demonstration of the “continued commitment to building the capacity of Ukraine’s forces to defend more effectively against Russian aggression,” SOCEUR said in a statement.

Tabor’s visit came after Russia’s decision last week to reduce the number of forces it had built up around Ukraine.

The situation, which Western officials said involved more than 100,000 Russian troops, heightened concerns among allies that Russia was poised to invade.

Moscow said its troops were taking part in training drills. It still isn’t clear how many forces or how much gear was left behind in the region by the Russian military.

The rapid troop buildup was the largest force assembled around the country since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, the Pentagon said. In the years since, Russian-backed separatists have been fighting a civil war in Ukraine’s east.

Russia also maintains a large naval presence off the coast of Ukraine and Moscow said it will block all foreign naval vessels from transiting a part of the Black Sea known as the Kerch Strait until October. The area has been a flashpoint in the past between Russian and Ukrainian naval vessels.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver