American troops have arrived in Lithuania for military drills as tensions rise in the region over Ukraine. Russia has voiced its concern over the troop buildup in Eastern Europe as well as to the deployment of NATO ships in the Black Sea.
The Lithuanian government welcomed the arrival of 150 troops at the Lithuanian Air Force Aviation Base in Siauliai on Saturday, reported Reuters. Referring to the escalating tensions in Ukraine, President Dalia Grybauskaite said “we know in this situation who our real friends are coming to help.”
“If any of our guests are injured, it would mean an open confrontation not with Lithuania but with the United States,” she added. The group of troops is part of a larger contingent of 600 troops that have been deployed throughout Eastern Europe to reassure NATO allies. Another company of soldiers arrived in Poland on Wednesday and in Latvia on Friday. Troops are also expected to arrive in Estonia on Monday.
“It’s a message to anyone who will listen, and the message is that the United States of America will honor its commitments to Lithuania,” Richard Longo, Deputy Commanding General of US Army Europe, told reporters in Siauliai.
According to the Lithuanian Defense Ministry the soldiers will conduct a number of military exercises throughout this year.
The US Department of Defense announced the drills on Tuesday, saying they sent a clear message to Moscow.
“If there’s a message to Moscow, it is the same exact message that we take our obligations very, very seriously on the continent of Europe,” Kirby told reporters. Washington has accused Russia of meddling in the affairs of neighboring Ukraine, which is currently embroiled in a crisis that shows no signs of abating.
Russia denies it has any involvement in the Ukrainian conflict and has alleged that the US is “running the show.” In addition, Moscow has spoken out against the buildup of allied force troops in Eastern Europe, saying their war games will not help to normalize the situation in Ukraine.
“Our concern is caused by an increase of US air force and military personnel in the Baltic, Poland, and also the Alliance’s ships in the Black Sea,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement, quoting General Valery Gerasimov who spoke with his American counterpart on Friday.
The US has also deployed frigate USS Taylor in the Black Sea, which will shortly be joined by French NATO vessel Dupleix. France will also send four fighter jets to participate in aerial patrols over the Baltics.
Moscow has voiced its concern over the Ukrainian government troops that have been deployed in the East of the country as part of an “anti-terror” operation. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said 11,000 Ukrainian soldiers, 160 tanks, 230 armored carriers and at least 150 artillery pieces have been deployed in the region. At least five people have been killed so far during the Ukrainian operation.
In response to the buildup of troops close to its borders, Shoigu said Russia was “forced” to begin military drills on Thursday.
Moscow does not recognize Kiev’s coup-appointed government and has decried the use of force against Ukrainian civilians in the east of the country.