The United States has announced that it will train 780 Kyiv troops, with UK confirming that its servicemen had begun working with Ukraine's army. Russia has warned that the move could risk the peace process.
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko announced on Thursday that US servicemen would begin training 780 Ukrainian soldiers. According to a statement released by Poroshenko's office, US Vice President Joe Biden spoke to the Kyiv leader and confirmed that the training would happen "in the nearest time."
Britain's Ministry of Defence also announced on Thursday that 35 of its trainers had begun working with Ukraine's army in the southern city of Mykolaiv as part of a two-month mission. "The first elements of the training package began in March," news agency AFP reported a ministry spokeswoman as saying.
Aiding Kyiv with "non-lethal equipment is designed to prevent further Ukrainian fatalities and casualties and to help improve situational awareness on the ground," she added.
Meanwhile, Russia warned that the presence of Western military instructors in Ukraine could hamper the peace process. "This does not strengthen trust of defuse tensions in the conflict zone," Russian President Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies.
Russia expands military maneuvre
Moscow also announced Thursday it had doubled the number of troops partaking in large-scale military exercises across the country this week, a move that could further heighten tensions.
Valery Gerasimov, Russia's chief of the general staff, said that the "number of troops taking part in the exercises has gone up to 80,000, and the number of aircraft has increased to 220," according to state news agency RIA Novosti. A further 65 battleships were also taking part in the drills.
The military maneuver included the deployment of nuclear-capable bombers to Crimea, where Russia has said it would like to station them permanently in 2016. Moscow is also planning to position modern missile systems in its westernmost exclave of Kaliningrad, which borders Poland.
'Threats to our border'
Meanwhile, Lithuania and its Baltic neighbors were viewing Russia's actions in Ukraine and renewed military posturing with great concern. Wary of potential Russian aggression, Lithuanian leaders voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to reintroduce military conscription.
Under the new law, up to 3,500 young men would receive nine months of basic training each year for the next five years.
"There are threats to our border. Safeguarding our national security should not just be our priority, but our duty," Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said of the legislation.
After Russia launched massive drills with thousands of soldiers close to its Baltic borders in February, the US announced it was sending 3,000 troops to the Baltic states to partake in joint military exercises with NATO partners.
bw,mg/rc (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)