US to Lead Peacekeeping Exercises in Ukraine

The U.S. military is set to lead peacekeeping exercises Monday in western Ukraine involving 15 nations, as President Barack Obama prepares to host Ukraine’s president for talks at the White House later this week.

The Defense Department announced the 12-day exercise earlier this month, saying 1,300 personnel would take part, including 200 U.S. soldiers. The deployment is the first involving U.S. ground troops to Ukraine since the crisis began their earlier this year.

The exercise comes as fighting continues between Ukrainian troops and rebels in the eastern part of the country.

On Sunday, an intense battle flared at a government-controlled airport outside the rebel stronghold of Donetsk.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also reported Sunday that its monitors visited a market in Donetsk that appeared to have been shelled, and while there, four mortar rounds exploded about 200 meters from them. The OSCE said the monitors moved to another location a kilometer away, and reported another mortar shell hitting about 100 meters from their position.

A White House spokesman said Friday that Obama and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will discuss diplomatic ways to end the crisis when they meet Thursday, and that the talks will highlight U.S. commitment to “stand with Ukraine” in its pursuit of democracy and stability.

The situation in Ukraine is also expected to be discussed Monday in Paris on the sidelines of a conference on Iraq.

A senior U.S. State Department official says Secretary John Kerry will talk with several foreign ministers to review developments.  The official told reporters travelling with the secretary that “It appears the Russians are treating the Donetsk border as their own.”

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