One of the top U.S. Army commanders in Europe has stated that U.S. troops will begin training their Ukrainian counterparts in March.

U.S. Army Europe Commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said that a battalion of U.S. soldiers would be providing training to three Ukrainian battalions to help them in their struggle against Russian-backed rebels in the east of the country. The U.S. Army training will be carried out at the Yavariv training center in Lviv, in western Ukraine, writes Vanessa Gera of the Associated Press.

U.S. Army To Train Ukrainian Troops

Deteriorating situation

Fighting in the east has intensified of late, and peace talks are taking place in the Belorussian capital of Minsk between French, German, Ukrainian and Russian leaders. The prevailing mood is one of pessimism, with few people expecting a peace deal to result from the latest round of talks.

Hodges stated that the U.S. Army will train the Ukrainians in how to better defend themselves against “Russian and rebel artillery and rockets.” The training will also help them to secure bridges, roads and other infrastructure, improve the treatment and evacuation of casualties and enable them to operate more effectively when the Russians jam communications.

U.S. Army commander Hodges was very frank in his assessment of Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s role in the conflict.

“I think it’s very important to recognize these are not separatists, these are proxies for President Putin,” Hodges said. “It is very obvious from the amount of ammunition, the type of equipment, that there is direct Russian military intervention in the area around Debaltseve.”

U.S. Army concern

Debaltseve is a railway junction which is currently held by the government. Rebels are mounting an offensive with the aim of taking their positions, given that Debaltseve lies between the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk, both of which are rebel-held.

Hodges is concerned by the prospect of a successful rebel attack on Debaltseve, which could potentially free up resources for an attack on the strategic port city of Mariupol. “I don’t know that, but I am concerned that that is something that they might do. They certainly have a large number of Russian forces, 10 battalions, on the border of eastern Ukraine.”

Hodges was speaking at NATO’s Multinational Corps Northeast Headquarters which is located in the city of Szczecin, Poland. NATO capabilities in Eastern Europe have come under increased scrutiny as fears grow that we could be headed for World War III.