Ukraine crisis: US suspends military ties with Russia


The United States has suspended all military engagements with Russia, including exercises and port visits, in response to Moscow sending troops into Crimea.

The announcement from the Pentagon came on Monday night a few hours after President Barack Obama warned that the US government would look at economic and diplomatic sanctions that would isolate Moscow over its involvement in the Ukraine crisis. The United States also put trade and investment talks with Russia on hold.

“We call on Russia to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine and for Russian forces in Crimea to return to their bases,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said.

Kirby said that although the defence department valued its military-to-military relations with Russia, “we have, in light of recent events in Ukraine, put on hold all military-to-military engagements”. Its suspension also applied to bilateral military meetings and planning conferences, he said.

The decision does not sever all ties and top-level dialogue could continue, leaving open the channels between the defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, and the Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu.

The US military does not take such steps lightly and took no such action, for example, last year during turmoil in Egypt that saw the army topple the country's first freely elected leader. Military-to-military contacts help bridge gaps between nations and reduce chances of misunderstandings, officials say. “For us to cancel them is a major statement,” said retired Army Brigadier General Kevin Ryan, a former defence attache at the US embassy in Moscow and now a defence expert at Harvard University.

U.S. officials have played down any possibility of military action that would risk escalating the situation. The Pentagon appeared at pains to quash any speculation US armed forces were poised to get involved. “Some media outlets are speculating on possible ship movements in the region. There has been no change to our military posture in Europe or the Mediterranean,” Kirby said.Kirby said US navy units were conducting routine, previously planned operations and exercises in the region.