U.S. Aiding NATO Allies' Defenses Over Ukraine Crisis

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration took steps Wednesday to support the defenses of U.S. allies in Europe in response to Russia's takeover of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the U.S. was stepping up joint aviation training with Polish forces. The Pentagon also is increasing American participation in NATO's air policing mission in its Baltic countries, he said.

In Paris, CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan reports that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was unable to get top diplomats from Russia and Ukraine in the same room or to hold direct talks on Wednesday, a senior State Department official confirmed to CBS News.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry told CBS News that Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia was making his way to Paris' airport Wednesday afternoon after flying in on Kerry's plane from Kiev Tuesday night. Officials say there is still a chance he might stay in an attempt to hold talks later in the week.

The hope had been that Wednesday would be the first time for the two countries to begin direct talks - a diplomatic breakthrough - since the Russian invasion of Crimea. Deshchytsia - who was a protester in Kiev three months ago - told reporters Tuesday that he expected to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, but the Russians had not agreed to meet.

On the sidelines of this summit, which was supposed to be focused on Lebanon, Lavrov was approached about the situation in Ukraine by a group of European ministers and Kerry. The conversation was "brief and informal" and included the top diplomats from Germany, France, U.S., U.K. and Lavrov, according to the senior State Department official.

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told "CBS This Morning" co-host Charlie Rose on his PBS program Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was trying to re-establish Russian influence over the former states of the Soviet Union.

"He doesn't want to bring them back into the Soviet Union," said Gates. "He doesn't want to recreate the Soviet Union. He just wants them, in effect, to be part of an alliance with Russia but where they essentially do Russia's bidding, and he's trying to prevent them from moving to the West."

In his remarks in Washington, Hagel focused on U.S. diplomatic and aid efforts since Moscow's incursion into Ukrainian territory. He said he'd speak later Wednesday with Ukraine's new defense minister; Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey spoke to his Russian counterpart earlier in the day. Neither Hagel nor Dempsey mentioned military options.

"I urge continued restraint to reserve room for a diplomatic solution," Dempsey told the Senate panel.

While the hearing was supposed to focus on the military's budget, both witnesses quickly addressed the ongoing events in Ukraine.

Since last weekend, Russian troops have taken control of much of the peninsula in the Black Sea, where Russian speakers are in the majority. Moscow doesn't recognize the Ukrainian leadership that came to power after protesters ousted the country's pro-Russian president last month. It has cited strategic interests as well as the protection of ethnic Russians in making its case for intervention.

Hagel said the U.S. was reaffirming its commitment to allies in Central and Eastern Europe, some of whom spent decades in the last century under Soviet domination. European countries are grappling with their own response to the crisis, fearful about moves reminiscent of Russia's Cold War policy of regional hegemony but equally concerned about damaging trade and energy partnerships vital to their economies.

Details on the new U.S. security efforts weren't immediately available.

The United States assumed control over NATO's air policing duties over Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in January. Belgium previously had the four-month rotating duty. The mission "not only protects the integrity of NATO airspace, it illustrates the alliance's core function of collective defense," the 28-nation bloc said in a statement at the time.

Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators waving Russian flags stormed a government building in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine and placed a Russian flag on top of it.

The region is the home area of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled the country after massive protests in Kiev.

An AP photographer, who was in Donetsk, said more than 2,000 people gathered in the square Wednesday afternoon outside the regional administrative building before groups of men broke through police ranks and smashed their way into the building.

Many of the protesters waved Russian and other flags. Many chanted "Russia! Russia!"


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