U.S. Moves Troops Closer to Ukraine, Though It Doesn’t Plan to Use Them

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Pro-Russian supporters rally in front a barricade in Donetsk on April 12, 2014. Photo: Alexander Khudoteply/AFP/Getty Images

The situation in Ukraine continued to deteriorate on Tuesday, as Kiev accused pro-Russian separatists of torturing and killing two people, including a local politician, and shooting a military plane. Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov responded by ordering security forces to resume their operations against the militants, which were suspended after last week's international accord called for all sides to refrain from violence. The United States also announced on Tuesday that it's sending about 600 troops into Eastern Europe in response to "Russian aggression," though President Obama has repeatedly ruled out any sort of military intervention in Ukraine.

Four U.S. military companies from the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, with about 150 troops each, will begin moving this week from their base in Italy to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Obviously, 600 American troops are not going to take on the 40,000 Russian troops gathering on Ukraine's eastern border, but their presence is meant to serve as a reminder of the United States' commitments in the region. "Since Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, we have been constantly looking at ways to reassure allies and partners," said Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary. "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."

The troops will take part in exercises with the militaries of their host countries, which Kirby described as "real infantry training." "It’s more than symbology," he added.

The U.S. has already made it clear that the next step if Russia fails to comply with the terms of the peace agreement is another round of sanctions. During his visit to Ukraine this week, Vice-President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. will provide a $50 million aid package, including $11 million to help conduct the country's May 25 elections. Earlier on Tuesday, Senator John McCain said the package is "helpful," but dismissed Biden's call for Russia to stop backing the separatists in eastern Ukraine. "Or else what?" he said. "What is the vice president saying, if they continue to do this, what will we do?"