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Ukraine launches joint NATO exercise as fighting continues in east

A Soldier from the 173rd Airbone Brigade stands in formation during Exercise Rapid Trident's opening ceremony in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Sept. 15, 2014. Rapid Trident is an annual multinational exercise conducted by U.S. Army Europe, designed to enhance interoperability with allied and partner nations while promoting regional stability and security.

JOSHUA LEONARD/U.S. ARMY

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 15, 2014

U.S. Army paratroopers on Monday began nearly two weeks of exercises in Ukraine, where soldiers from the Vicenza, Italy-based 173rd Airborne Brigade are working alongside more than 1,000 troops from other NATO member countries.

Rapid Trident is the first major combat exercise on Ukrainian soil since Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in March and subsequent incursions into eastern Ukraine, where a tenuous cease-fire is in place after months of heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists.

The long-planned exercise, initially scheduled for the summer, was pushed back as Ukraine dealt with the unfolding crisis in the eastern part of the country, where sporadic fighting continues.

During Rapid Trident, troops from the U.S., Ukraine and 13 other countries will conduct a series of drills aimed at bolstering combat capabilities. Areas of focus include countering roadside bombs and tactics for effectively running convoys and patrols in hostile environments.

Russia has amassed troops close to Ukraine’s border in recent months and conducted a series of military exercises. Russia’s show of muscle and aggression toward Ukraine have soured relations with NATO and its member countries.

In addition to sanctions imposed by the U.S. and European Union, NATO has taken steps to increase its readiness and military response time to reassure nervous allies on or close to Russia’s borders, in particular Poland and the three Baltic states.

Soldiers from the 173rd have conducted numerous exercises in those countries in recent months, as U.S. European Command has boosted its presence in the region.

Rapid Trident, which will conclude on Sept. 26, is taking place at the International Peace Keeping and Security Center in Yavoriv, which is in western Ukraine, far from the tensions in the east.

The participating countries are Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Georgia, Germany, Great Britain, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain and the U.S.

vandiver.john@stripes.com