US to send more troops and equipment to eastern Europe in $1bn plan to boost Nato defences as tensions over Ukraine simmer
President Barack Obama plans to send more troops and equipment to bolster military support for Nato members in eastern Europe as tensions in the region simmer following Russia's actions in Ukraine.
The U.S. President has called on lawmakers in Washington to back the $1billion plan to support and train the armed forces of Nato states on Russia's borders.
Obama was speaking at the start of a major tour of Europe in Warsaw where he will attend celebrations of the 25th anniversary of Poland emerging from communism. Obama also planned to meet with Group of 7 leaders in Brussels before heading to France to mark the D-Day anniversary.
President Barack Obama has unveiled plans to send more troops and equipment to bolster military support for Nato members in eastern Europe
Obama (pictured with Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski) has called on lawmakers in Washington to back the $1billion plan to support and train the armed forces of Nato states on Russia's borders
Obama (pictured with President of Poland Bronislaw Komorowski) was speaking at the start of a major tour of Europe in Warsaw where he will attend celebrations of the 25th anniversary of Poland emerging from communism
'Today, I'm announcing a new initiative to bolster the support of our Nato allies here in Europe,' Obama said at Warsaw's Belweder Palace. 'Under this effort, and with the support of Congress, the United States will preposition more equipment in Europe.'
The 'European Reassurance Initiative' - a historic plan that must be approved by Congress - would build the capacity of non-Nato states such as Ukraine and Georgia to work with the United States and the Western alliance and build their own defences.
Obama's first pivotal encounter will come Wednesday when he meets Ukraine's president-elect Petro Poroshenko, with his country threatened by civil war and its new pro-Western leadership grasping for protection from Washington. The seven-week pro-Russian insurgency in the east of Ukraine grew only more violent after Poroshenko swept to power in a May 25 presidential ballot on a promise to quickly end fighting and save the nation of 46 million from economic collapse.
Hundreds of separatist gunmen staged one of their biggest offensives to date on Monday by attacking a Ukrainian border guard service camp in the region of Lugansk on the border with Russia.
Ukraine's military reported suffering no fatalities and killing five rebels in a day-long battle that saw insurgents pelt the camp with mortar fire and deploy snipers on rooftops surrounding the base.
The 'European Reassurance Initiative' - a historic plan that must be approved by Congress - would build the capacity of non-Nato states such as Ukraine and Georgia to work with the United States and the Western alliance and build their own defences
A day before his first face-to-face encounter with Ukraine's president-elect Petro Poroshenko, Obama said he wants both the U.S. and Ukraine to have good relations with Russia
In a warning to Moscow, Obama said the U.S. has contingency plans to protect every member of Nato, and has been steadily developing those plans in recent years
But Lugansk's self-declared 'prime minister' Vasyl Nikitin told AFP that at least three civilians and the separatist administration's top health official had died in the violence.
A spokesman for Ukraine's 'anti-terrorist operation' in the east said one federal soldier was killed and another 13 wounded Tuesday in a new bout of fighting in the neighbouring coal mining province of Donetsk.
A day before his first face-to-face encounter with Poroshenko, Obama said he wants both the U.S. and Ukraine to have good relations with Russia. But in a warning to Moscow, Obama said the U.S. has contingency plans to protect every member of Nato, and has been steadily developing those plans in recent years.
'Our contingency plans are not just pieces of paper on a shelf,' Obama said, adding that the U.S. must and does have the ability to put those plans into effect if needed.
At the same time, he called on other Nato members to step up by increasing their own role in the alliance's collective defense, even as he acknowledged that the U.S. has greater capabilities to bear that burden than its smaller allies.
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski welcomes U.S. President Barack Obama at his Belweder residence in Warsaw, Poland
President Barack Obama steps off Air Force One as he arrives at the Okecie Airport in Warsaw, Poland
Obama has called on other Nato members to step up by increasing their own role in the alliance's collective defense, even as he acknowledged that the U.S. has greater capabilities to bear that burden than its smaller allies
'Everyone has the capacity to do their fair share, to do a proportional amount to make sure we have the resources, the planning, the integration, the training in order to be effective,' Obama said.
To that end, Komorowski announced that Poland intends to increase its own defense budget, up to 2 per cent of the nation's gross domestic product. 'It means it's a very tangible, very clear engagement,' Komorowski said through a translator.
The cautionary notes from Obama and Komorowski came just a few days before a potential encounter between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who also planned to be in France on Friday for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that eventually led to Allied victory in World War II.
Putin's foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said today that Putin will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the D-Day aniversary events in France.
Plans for meetings with French President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister David Cameron during the visit to France had already been announced, but Ushakov told reporters no meeting with Obama has been planned.
New soldiers of the Ukrainian army battalion 'Azov' pose for a photo at their oath of allegiance ceremony in Kiev before departing to eastern Ukraine
Volunteers from Social National Assembly take an oath of allegiance to Ukraine before being sent to the eastern region of the country to join the ranks of special battalion 'Azov'
New soldiers of the Ukrainian army battalion 'Azov' look at a knife during their oath of allegiance ceremony before departing to eastern Ukraine
Separately, the Kremlin said that in a telephone conversation on Tuesday, Putin and Merkel called for coordinated measures to defuse the crisis in Ukraine and discussed talks between Russia, Ukraine and the European Union on gas supplies.
Obama and Putin have not met in person since the crisis began and have no meetings together scheduled, but White House officials have not ruled out that they could cross paths.
Calling his relationship with Putin 'businesslike,' Obama said it was possible for the U.S. to rebuild trust with Putin, but that doing so would take time and require Putin to use his influence to calm unrest in eastern Ukraine.
'We are interested in good relations with Russia. We are not interested in threatening Russia,' Obama said.
But he echoed previous warnings from the U.S. and other Western nations that 'further provocation will be met with further costs.'
A woman says goodbye to her friend, a volunteer from the Social National Assembly, before they were sent to the eastern part of Ukraine to join the ranks of special battalion 'Azov'
A fighter of the Social Nationalist Assembly (SNA), part of the ultra-nationalist Right Sector party, embraces his girlfriend in Kiev prior to leaving for the east of Ukraine
Some 40 fighters took the oath to join the volunteer battalion of Azov taking part in the Anti Terrorist Operation (ATO) together with Ukrainian troops in the east of the country
The U.S. and Europe have already levied sanctions against Russian officials, but are holding off on further sanctions amid Putin's vow to respect the results of Ukraine's recent presidential election.
Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen hailed Obama's announcement of a bolstered U.S. presence on the continent.
'The United States has reacted swiftly after Russia's illegal military actions in Ukraine,' Rasmussen said as he met with Nato defense ministers in Brussels. 'And I appreciate that other allies have followed so that we can announce that all 28 allies are now contributing to reassurance measures.'
Obama's visit to Warsaw coincides with the 25th anniversary of Poland emerging from communism. Obama also planned to meet with Group of 7 leaders in Brussels before heading to France to mark the D-Day anniversary.
Residents seek refuge in an underground bomb shelter during air raids by the Ukrainian air force in Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine
Ukrainian troops on Tuesday launched an offensive against pro-Russian insurgents in the eastern city of Slovyansk and advanced through the city's outskirts, the nation's interior minister said
Later today, Obama and Komorowski were due to hold discussions on central European security with leaders from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Croatia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovenia.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was joining Obama for many of his events in Warsaw. During a separate meeting with Poland's foreign minister, Kerry said the crisis in Ukraine presents 'a new moment of challenge for all of us.'
'Events in Ukraine have unfortunately unleashed forces that we had all hoped had been put away, were behind us, and so it requires new vigilance and it requires clear commitment,' Kerry said.
Washington's commitment to Ukraine will be reinforced when US Vice President Joe Biden travels to Kiev on Saturday to attend Poroshenko's swearing in as the country's fifth post-Soviet president.
A teenager examines a damaged car near a Federal Border Headquarters building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk on Tuesday, a day after heavy combat with pro-Russian militants
The visit is meant to underscore the U.S. position that the people of Ukraine should decide their destiny and overcome the cultural differences now tearing apart the vast country's Russified east and more nationalist west.
Kiev has not yet invited any Moscow official to the inauguration and Russian President Vladimir Putin is yet to formally recognise the result of an election that saw rebels disrupt voting across swathes of the east.
The U.S. president's tour also takes in the Group of Seven summit in Brussels on Thursday that symbolically replaces a Group of Eight meeting that Putin was due to host in Sochi but which world leaders decided to boycott.
Ukrainian troops launch offensive against pro-Russian insurgents in eastern city of Slovyansk
Ukrainian troops launched an offensive against pro-Russian insurgents in the eastern city of Slovyansk today and advanced through the city's outskirts, the nation's interior minister said.
Arsen Avakov said government troops broke through rebel positions around the village of Semenovka on the eastern fringe of Slovyansk.
'An active offensive stage of the counter-terrorist operation is under way in Slovyansk,' he wrote on his Facebook page.
Pro-Russian militants take their positions to fight against Ukrainian government forces outside Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine
Ukrainian troops on Tuesday launched an offensive against pro-Russian insurgents in the eastern city of Slovyansk and advanced through the city's outskirts, the nation's interior minister said. Pictured is a pro-Russian militant as he takes his position to fight Ukrainian government forces
Mr Avakov warned residents in Slovyansk and the nearby cities of Kramatorsk and Krasny Liman to stay at home.
An Associated Press journalist just south of Slovyansk heard sustained gun and artillery fire and saw plumes of black smoke rising over the city.
A Ukrainian military officer said one serviceman was killed and 13 others injured when their vehicle came under rebel fire near Slovyansk.
The Interfax news agency quoted rebels in Slovyansk as saying that the government used combat jets and helicopter gunships as well as artillery to bombard their positions.
Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly announced an escalation in armed operations, only to eventually back down.
In recent days, government forces have been noticeably reinforced to the north of Slovyansk, however, and deployment of air power over the past week has signalled increased determination.
A pro-Russian militant waves as he takes his position to fight against Ukrainian government forces outside Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine
Slovyansk, which sits on a strategic highway, has seen daily fighting between government forces and the rebels, who have seized government buildings and set up checkpoints around the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk which form Ukraine's industrial heartland.
The fighting has escalated following the May 25 presidential election won by billionaire candy magnate Petro Poroshenko, with rebels launching an attack on Donetsk airport and shooting down a government helicopter over Slovyansk.
Yesterday, hundreds of rebels armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades mounted a day-long siege of a border guards base on the outskirts of Luhansk which co-ordinates the protection of Ukraine's border with Russia. Border guards said they killed at least five rebels in repelling the attack.
FRANCOIS HOLLANDE TO EAT TWO DINNERS IN ONE NIGHT TO KEEP OBAMA AND PUTIN APART
French president Francois Hollande is to eat two dinners in one night so as to keep Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin apart
By PETER ALLEN
French president Francois Hollande is to eat two dinners in one night so as to keep Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin apart.
Socialist Hollande is facing one of the busiest weeks of his career as 18 heads of state, including the Queen, arrive in his country for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
It comes as the international community expresses its outrage at Russian president Putin over his country's conduct in Ukraine.
Mr Hollande will be the first western leader to meet Putin for a one-on-one since pro-European protests overthrew Ukraine's pro-Moscow president.
This led to Russia annexing the Crimean Peninsula, and the U.S. and EU imposing sanctions on Putin's regime.
Mr Hollande has, against the background of these tensions, diplomatically decided to have a dinner with Obama early on Thursday evening.
It will last around two hours, said French diplomatic sources, and then the presidential chefs will have to put on a second meal for Putin.
Obama spokesman Ben Rhodes appeared to confirm the arrangement last Friday, saying of the three world leaders: 'As host of many different countries, he's having a range of separate meetings.
'But there will not be a trilateral dinner that evening between the three of them. It's just a one-on-one,' Mr Rhodes added.
It may be that one of the meals is hosted outside the Elysee Palace in Paris, so as to save Mr Obama and Mr Putin running into each other.
Mr Hollande has defended his decision to invite Putin to Normandy for the June 6 D-Day commemorations on Friday - and not just because of the substantial trade arrangements France has with Russia.
Mr Hollande points to the primary role the Red Army played in the defeat of Nazism during the Second World War.
The Russians did not fight in Normandy, but their battles on the eastern front were the decisive ones.
Mr Hollande said: 'I will never forget that the Russian people gave millions of lives'.
Mr Putin will meet with David Cameron in France, with the Prime Minister's office saying it was a chance 'to set out the importance of a dialogue between the Russian government and the new Ukrainian government.'
For more than a decade there have been sightings of unusual high-speed watercraft patrolling up and down the Columbia River between Portland, Oregon and Vancouver in Canada.
The vessels belong to the Navy SEALs and are part of an ongoing project called Sealion, which stands for SEAL (Sea Air Land Commandos) Insertion, Observation and Neutralization.
Despite being in existence for more than a decade, the project remains shrouded in mystery, although over the years some information has been discovered.
For more than a decade there have been sightings of unusual high-speed watercraft on the Columbia River, the vessels belong to the Navy SEALs and are part of an ongoing project called Sealion
Sealion is an experiment between the US Navy's Surface Warfare Command and the Naval Special Warfare Command.
Launched in 2000, the brief was to develop a high-speed, low observable/low radar signature craft that could operate in the littorals i.e. the part of sea close to shore. The Navy's intention was to use the craft as a medium-range method of transporting SEALs without appearing on the enemy's radar.
Sealion is operationally controlled by Naval Special Warfare Group (NSWG) 4 at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va, reports FoxtrotAlpha.
The Navy's intention was to use the craft as a medium-range method of transporting SEALs without being appearing on the enemy's radar
Launched in 2000, the Sealion brief was to develop a high-speed, low observable/low radar signature craft that could operate in the littorals i.e. the part of sea close to shore
‘The purpose of the project was to build a demonstration craft to explore the use of technology that may have future application in the Global War on Terrorism,’ said Capt. Evin H. Thompson, one-time commander of NSWG 4, speaking about the original version of the craft.
Known simply as Sealion, it measured 71 feet and required a crew of one or two sailors to operate. It was capable of 40 knots under normal conditions and no less than 30 knots in sea states as high as level five.
The original Sealion, cost $9 million and was delivered in 2003 when a demonstration is understood to have taken place.
However the boat was never put into production and instead the decision was taken to develop the slightly more advanced Sealion ll.
Sealion is operationally controlled by Naval Special Warfare Group (NSWG) 4 at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va,
A rear opening garage-like door would allow for deployment and recovery of these craft with relative ease and without compromising the boat's stealth capabilities for more than a short period of time
It appears to have been a refinement of the original design and is rumored to have offered an even lower radar cross section than its predecessor, but was also big enough to carry an unspecified number of SEALs and a modular mission payload.
It also required just a single crewman to operate.
The state-of-the-art electronics suite included a retractable FLIR turret, communications array and radar, along with a highly automated command and control system.
According to Thompson, NSWG 4 was looking at Sealion II as a potential platform for weapons systems and intelligence collection.
A rear opening garage-like door would allow for deployment and recovery of these craft with relative ease and without compromising the boat's stealth capabilities for more than a short period of time.
Despite being in existence for more than a decade, the Sealion project remains surrounded in mystery, although over the years some information has been disclosed
Another supposed benefit of the Sealion ll was that it could be used to sneak up on a moving target, such as a large ship.
Without showing up on its radar would clearly offer a huge advantage over boats normally used for missions which do not feature a high degree of 'low observable' technology.
It isn't clear if the Sealion ll has ever become even semi-operational within the Navy, but the program appears to remains active because new boats keep appearing on the Columbia year after year.
Even boaters who have spotted a Sealion visually as it is semi-submerged say that it does not show up on their commercial grade radars, which is at least some proof to the Sealion's cloaking capabilities.
Even boaters who have spotted a Sealion visually as it is semi-submerged say that it does not show up on their commercial grade radars, which is at least some proof to the Sealion's cloaking capabilities
It isn't clear if the Sealion ll has ever become semi-operational within the Navy, but the assumption is that the program remains active because new boats keep appearing on the Columbia year after year
Not so quiet on the Eastern front: Incredible close-up pictures capture the running gun battles as Ukraine crisis develops into full-scale war through town and country
This powerful set of close-up photos captures the moment that yet another bloody clash broke out between warring sides in Ukraine, as the ongoing conflict reached new levels.
The photos were taken during the latest assault in the strife-torn separatist east, outside the industrial city of Lugansk, amid fears that the crisis is being propelled into a full-scale war.
The confrontation ended with five rebels being killed as Ukraine forces warded off an attack by 500 pro-Russian gunmen on a federal border guard camp.
A pro-Russia militant shoots from a loft of a residential building at borderguards defending the Federal Border Headquarters building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk
Kiev officials said the assault took place in the the strife-torn separatist east, outside the industrial city of Lugansk
A pro-Russian rebel pauses before going to the rooftop of an apartment building to fire a rocket propelled grenade during today's clashes in which Ukrainian forces killed five rebels
One of the fighters is seen covering his face during the confrontation, which took place after an attack by 500 pro-Russian gunmen on the federal border guard camp
A militant loads a magazine. The border guard service said seven of its servicemen were wounded when 'around 500 terrorists' attacked one of its units
The border guard service said seven of its servicemen were wounded when 'around 500 terrorists' attacked one of its units near the city.
Meanwhile a children's hospital was shelled during an attack on a on a government checkpoint in Slovyansk, a city in the Donetsk region that has been an epicenter of the pro-Russian movement.
A spokesman for Ukraine's self-proclaimed 'anti-terrorist operation' said the border guards eventually received air cover from fighter bombers that managed to destroy 'two mortar crews of militants".
A pro-Russia militant is seen shooting from the roof of a residential building, aiming at borderguards who defended the Federal Border Headquarters building in Lugansk
The militants were seen moving around the roof top, trying to get the best positions from which to fire
In a statement, the border guard said the rebels were using mortar, grenade launchers and machineguns in the attack.
It said the fighters were firing from residential apartments and rooftops, while 'using civilians as human shields'.
A spokesman for Ukraine's self-proclaimed 'anti-terrorist operation' said the border guards eventually received air cover from fighter bombers that managed to destroy 'two mortar crews of militants'.
The border guard said the rebels, one of whom is pictured here running for cover, were 'using civilians as human shields'
It said the rebels were using mortar, grenade launchers and machineguns while carrying out the attack
Ukrainian army paratroopers move to position in Slovyansk, Ukraine
Ukrainian army paratroopers sit atop an APC as they move to position in Slovyansk. Hundreds of armed insurgents attacked a border guards' camp in eastern Ukraine
Rebels nearby promised safety for the officers if they surrendered the base and lay down their arms
Ukrainian army paratroopers move to a position in Slovyansk
'After the aircraft returned to base, we received information that fighting around the Lugansk border unit resumed,' Vladyslav Seleznyov told Kiev's ICTV television.
Ukraine's defence ministry said on Friday that the seven-week eastern insurgency had claimed the lives of 49 Ukrainian servicemen and 128 civilians and separatists.
Russia has accused Ukraine of breaching the 1949 Geneva Conventions protecting civilians in wartime by killing peaceful citizens.
A fighter is seen firing from the roof of a building, from where most of the gunshots were fired
The soldier checks behind him as he prepares to shoot from the roof of the residential building
A Pro-Russian fighter ducks for cover on the roof of a residential building
Ukrainian forces killed five rebels on June 2 while repelling an attack by 500 pro-Russian gunmen on a federal border guard camp in the strife-torn separatist east, Kiev officials said
A pro-Russia militant loads a magazine during the shoot-out, as the conflict between the two sides reaches new levels
It piled further diplomatic pressure on Kiev by announcing that it would submit a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council later on Monday demanding an immediate end to fighting and the creation of a corridors that would allow civilians to escape the affected areas.
Ukraine has previously rejected the need for such an 'aid corridor' out of fear that Russia might want to send in troops to supervise the evacuation.
Eight-month-old Evgeny, who suffers from cerebral palsy, lies in a cot inside a children's hospital, which was damaged by shells during ongoing fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian forces, in Slaviansk, Ukraine
Baby Evgeny cannot be transported to another hospital as it would endanger his life
A hole in a wall of the children's hospital following a shell attack during the fighting
A woman looks up at a hole, which was blasted through the wall of the children's hospital
Vladislav Seleznyov, press secretary for Ukraine's operation against the rebels in the east, described the base as an important coordinating node for the border guards, and said the attack may have been an attempt to disrupt communications.
Seleznyov also spoke of the separate rebel attack on Monday on a government checkpoint in Slovyansk, a city in the Donetsk region that has been an epicenter of the pro-Russian movement.
A man carries his son as he leaves his apartment building during an ongoing shoot-out between pro-Russia militants and border guards defending the Federal Border Headquarters in Lugansk
Pro-Russia militants shoot at the Federal Border Headquarters building from a roof of a residential building
Pro-Russia militants evacuate the children living in nearby apartments during the shoot-out
The Federal Border Headquarters building during its storming by pro-Russia militants
He said rebels had set mines at a number of power plants in Slovyansk, which he claimed would be detonated if the government were to move on the city.
In the regional capital of Donetsk, gunmen from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic entered the office of the local newspaper and took away its editor, Leonid Lapa, and his deputy Valery Lapshin.
The gunmen said they were taking the Vecherny Donetsk editor in for questioning.
For weeks, Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine has been the scene of deadly clashes between government troops and pro-Russian insurgents.
An armed pro-Russian militant guards a barricade outside the regional state building they seized in Lugansk. The volunteer National Guard said gunmen had sprung a surprise raid
The Lugansk region near Russia that had been under effective rebel control since early April
Ukraine's defence ministry said on Friday that the seven-week eastern insurgency had claimed the lives of 49 Ukrainian servicemen and 128 civilians and separatists
Many in Ukraine's east are suspicious of the new pro-Western government in Kiev, which came to power when pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country in February after months of street protests in Kiev.
Protests in the east demanding greater independence from the Ukrainian capital soon turned into a separatist movement as the Luhansk and Donetsk regions declared independence following hastily called referendums.
The conflict between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian insurgents escalated markedly in the past week, with rebels attempting to seize a major airport and the shooting-down of a Ukrainian military helicopter.
In Moscow, the Russian Defense Ministry announced Monday a military exercise involving the launch of high-precision missiles.
The ministry said the maneuvers of the western military district will continue through Thursday and will involve the deployment of Iskander surface-to-surface missiles.
Moscow didn't specify the areas where the exercise will be held and made no mention of the situation in Ukraine.