U.S. Officials Reach Out to Russia Regarding Crimea Build-Up

U.S. military officials are reaching out to Russian and Ukrainian counterparts as Moscow builds up its forces on the border between the two countries.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley on March 31 talked with his counterparts in both the countries as Russian military armor and other systems have been seen deploying to the Crimea region. U.S. outreach to Russia has “just started” and the Pentagon is pressing for no more incursions into Ukrainian territory, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on March 31.

“We’ve reached out to Russia to try to gain more clarity on what exactly is going on,” Kirby said.

Russian officials have said there is an “escalation of armed confrontation” in the region, though U.S. officials have said the increase in forces is likely a training exercise, CBS News reported.

The New York Times reported that within the past week, U.S. European Command increased its watch level in the area from a possible crisis to a potential imminent crisis, its highest level.

Kirby said EUCOM Commander USAF Gen. Tod D. Wolters expressed a concern about a potential threat and the ability to provide future warning. Increasing the watch condition would help EUCOM’s decision makers identify and track threats, “improving and increasing a leader’s visibility, noting there’s something worth watching. Watch being the operative word there,” Kirby said.

The move comes as Russia has repeatedly tested U.S. and NATO forces, including sending maritime patrol aircraft on March 29 to the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone. The same day NATO jets scrambled a total of 10 times to “shadow” Russian bombers and fighters in the North Atlantic, North Sea, Black Sea, and Baltic Sea, NATO said in a release.