A MESSAGE TO MOSCOW 25-04-2014
A message to Moscow
First of Nato soldiers arrive in eastern Europe, prompting Kremlin to launch its own military drills near the border as death toll rises in Ukraine
- Nato soldiers will be deployed in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
- It is part of routine drills and U.S. insists it will not intervene in Ukraine
- But U.S. army spokesman said there was a 'message to Moscow'
- Kremlin responded by sending troops on exercises near Ukrainian border
- Defence minister: 'We have to react to these developments somehow'
By Dan Bloom
Published: 17:35 GMT, 24 April 2014 | Updated: 08:03 GMT, 25 April 2014
The first of 600 U.S. soldiers have arrived in eastern Europe as a Pentagon spokesman declared the mission was sending a 'message to Moscow'.
But the Nato drills prompted a backlash from Russia, which sent its troops on exercises along the Ukrainian border today and declared: 'We have to react somehow'.
The escalation of east-west tensions comes amid a slowly rising death toll in Ukraine, where the government renewed its crackdown today on pro-Russian militants leaving at least five shot dead.
Flying to the region from their previous posting in Italy, they were met by Polish troops in similar red berets and the nation's defence minister.
Within a few days there will be 450 more American Nato troops spread between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
The Americans insisted the military exercises will not be a precursor to intervention in Ukraine, which is not a Nato member, and they could last until next year.
But Rear Admiral John Kirby, a top Defense Department spokesman, said the deployments sent a strong message to Nato allies about U.S. commitments to the alliance following events in Ukraine.
'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,' he added.
But Russia has insisted the build-up may violate the Founding Act, a 1997 agreement between Moscow and Nato.
Today Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reacted by ordering new military exercises in Russia's south and west, along the Ukrainian border.
The latest exercises - which add to the tens of thousands of troops already massed on the border - will involve ground and air forces.
'We have to react to these developments somehow,' he said.