A dozen US F-16s deployed to Lask AB, Poland, for joint exercises aimed at demonstrating America’s commitment to NATO’s collective defense in light of Russian machinations in Ukraine. “One of our objectives is to develop bonds, so if something happens, and we have to take action in a real-world environment, [we] … have trained together in advance,” said Lt. Col. John Peterson, who commands the expeditionary contingent of F-16s and approximately 200 airmen from Aviano AB, Italy, that arrived at Lask on March 14-15, according to Aviano’s March 17 release. Ukraine’s strategic Crimea region on March 16 voted to break away and join Russia in a referendum NATO condemned as “illegal and illegitimate.” NATO’s North Atlantic Council, in a statement on Monday, urged Russia “to de-escalate the situation, including by ceasing all military activities against Ukraine.” Also on Monday, President Obama froze the assets of certain Russian government officials. The White House called this action “a strong message” to the Russian government on the consequences of violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and supporting the “illegal” referendum in Crimea. (Lask report by A1C Ryan Conroy) (See also Prudent Gestures and a Wary Eye.)
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.