Russia on alert as US trains Ukraine’s troops

Nato co-operation with Kiev set to expand despite Kremlin warnings

To the crunch of grenades and crackle of machine-gun fire, United States paratroopers are helping members of Ukraine’s national guard to better defend the country’s east from separatist militants armed by Russia and assisted by its troops.

The vast Yavoriv firing range between the city of Lviv and the Polish border hosts training that Ukraine says is vital to its security and sovereignty, but which Moscow warns will only deepen the country’s conflict and the rift between Russia and the West.

The “Fearless Guardian” programme began in April and is due to end in November, having provided three groups of 200-300 Ukrainian soldiers with eight weeks of training focused on defensive techniques.

As training resumed this week, however, it was clear that military co-operation between Ukraine and its Nato allies is only set to increase in the coming years, and that skills acquired here by Kiev’s troops could be used to great effect in a wide range of combat situations.

“They’re asking for more and more training, which is a good sign, and what we ask them to do will get tougher and tougher,” said Dana Gingrich (27) a company commander from Maryland who serves with the US 173rd Airborne Brigade.

“They will complete their training with a live-fire exercise as a platoon, to knock out an enemy bunker . . . It’s the kind of thing we’d do before being sent to Afghanistan, so they’ll be expected to reach the same level as an American platoon.”

“The Ukrainians have told us all about the Russian armour, tanks and artillery that they face, and how they’re used. They’re the kind of tactics I studied in college,” said Gingrich, a graduate of the US military academy at West Point.

“The Ukrainians say the separatists have huge amounts of ammunition, because the border to Russia is wide open. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we fought insurgents with limited resources – here, they are fighting an insurgency with unlimited resources.”

In such a situation, some analysts say, Kremlin backing for the militants and growing Nato support for Ukraine will not lead to victory for either side, but only escalate the conflict, increase casualties and create a proxy war between Russia and the West with unpredictable consequences for the wider region.

Russian military aircraft and naval vessels are increasingly intercepted close to or inside the territorial space of Nato members, and war games by both sides are growing in size and complexity.

The European Leadership Network, a London-based think tank, said this week that recent major exercises showed that “each side is training with the other side’s capabilities and most likely war plans in mind . . . Russia is preparing for a conflict with Nato, and Nato is preparing for a possible confrontation with Russia.”

Full article: Russia on alert as US trains Ukraine’s troops (The Irish Times)

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