Pentagon upgrades drill with Poland

Even as the Russian Parliament backed Crimea’s call for a referendum on splitting from Ukraine, the United States stepped up its military presence in the region.

The USS Truxtun, a guided missile destroyer crossed the Bosphorus Straits on Friday for joint training with the Romanian and Bulgarian Navies in the Black Sea.

The ship is armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles and has a crew of about 300.

The U.S. Navy said the visit was “routine” and planned long before the crisis in Ukraine, but the CNN said its arrival “sends a signal.”

The Pentagon is also sending 12 F-16 fighter jets and 300 service personnel to Poland for a training exercise next week in response to the Ukraine crisis.

Polish Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak was quoted as saying Friday that the exercise had been scaled up at Poland’s request after Russia took control of the Crimean Peninsula.

The U.S. on Thursday deployed six F-15 fighter jets in Lithuania in response to “Russian aggression in Ukraine,” according to Lithuania’s Defence Minister Juozas Olekas.

The additional deployment will boost to 10 the number of NATO fighter jets assigned for air patrols over the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Crimean lawmakers on Thursday voted to have a referendum on March 16, asking people to choose between acceding to Russia and remaining an autonomous region of Ukraine with greater powers.

“If the people of Crimea make this decision, we in the upper chamber will support it,” Valentina Matvienko, Speaker of the Federation Council, said at a meeting with a delegation of Crimea’s Parliament led by its pro-Russian Speaker Vladimir Konstantinov.

“We will respect the historic choice of the people of Crimea,” said Sergei Naryshkin, Speaker of the lower house, the State Duma.

Intense diplomatic efforts to resolve the Ukraine crisis continued overnight as U.S. President Barak Obama called Russia’s President Vladimir Putin for a second time in less than a week.

The Kremlin said the two leaders disagreed over “the causes which brought about the current crisis and the resulting state of affairs.”

Mr. Putin insisted the new government in Kiev was illegitimate because it had come to power through “an unconstitutional coup.”

At the same time, the Russian and American Presidents “agreed that foreign policy chiefs Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry will continue intensive contacts.”

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