Hagel Fails To Reach Ukraine Counterpart

Monuments to Kiev's founders burn as anti-government protesters clash with riot police in Kiev's Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest, Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been unable to contact his counterpart in Ukraine to urge the military there to stay neutral in the bloody clashes between security forces and protesters, Pentagon officials said Thursday.

Hagel was "deeply troubled" by the violence and repeatedly tried to phone acting Ukraine Minister of Defense Pavlo Lebedev without success, said Rear. Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon Press Secretary.

"Secretary Hagel has been trying himself since early this week," Kirby said at a Pentagon briefing. "We haven't been able to connect with anybody. I'd say it's highly unusual. We want to see the armed forces of Ukraine continue to refrain from participating in the violence."

Hagel last spoke with Lebedev in December, calling for a peaceful resolution to protesters' demands as they took over a central square in Kiev.

Despite the rising violence, the Defense Department thus far has not received any requests from the State Department for assistance in the possible evacuation of U.S. citizens from Ukraine, Kirby said.

"No specific planning is being undertaken now to evacuate U.S. citizens," Kirby said.

Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the European Command and NATO commander, has also been unable to reach Ukraine's military leaders and has taken to Twitter and Facebook to urge restraint.

"As NATO's military commander, I ask that responsible leaders avoid the use of military force against the people of Ukraine," Breedlove said in a Tweet.

At the Pentagon, Kirby said Breedlove had not been tasked with planning for the evacuation of Americans, but "he has the military assets available to him" if needed.

To date, the Ukraine military has stood apart from the clashes between protesters and Interior Ministry and police forces that reportedly have killed more than 70 and injured hundreds since the assault by security forces against demonstrators' barricades in Kiev earlier this week.

In a sign that the violence could escalate, Ukraine Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko announced that combat weapons would be handed out to Interior Ministry and police forces to quell the demonstrations.

"As part of the work of the anti-terrorist center of the Security Service of Ukraine, I have signed the respective orders -- the law enforcers have been handed combat weapons, which will be used in accordance with the law of Ukraine," Zakharchenko said in a statement.

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the U.S. military had worked to develop close ties with Ukraine's armed forces until the apparent disconnect this week.

Ukrainian troops have participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom and in Operation Enduring Freedom Afghanistan. Currently, about 30 Ukrainian troops are in Afghanistan as trainers and advisors.

Ukraine has also expressed interest in continuing the training and advisory role post-2014 if the U.S. and NATO can reach agreement with the Kabul government on the terms for a coalition residual force to remain.

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Ukraine Chuck Hagel Richard Sisk
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