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NATO steps up Ukraine mission in response to Russia

There's been a spike this year in Russian air incursions near NATO countries, including the U.S. NATO countries have stepped up military exercises in Ukraine and across the Baltic states in response to Russia's actions. Gwen Ifill reports.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The role of the U.S. military in Europe has shifted since the start of the Ukraine conflict. Along with other NATO countries, American forces now have a sizable presence in the region.

    Today, the dispute was once again on view, at its center, Vladimir Putin's Russia.

    Just over a year ago, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 crashed in a field in Eastern Ukraine. All 298 people on board, most of them Dutch, were killed. The government in Kiev and in many other Western countries said Russian-backed separatists shot down the plane with a surface-to-air missile. It's a claim Moscow still denies.

    Now Malaysia, along with the Netherlands, Ukraine and others, wants to set up an international criminal tribunal to prosecute those responsible.

  • LIOW TONG LAI, Malaysian Transport Minister:

    An international tribunal will be best place to deliver justice to the families of all victims.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The U.N. Security Council took up the proposal this afternoon, but Russia vetoed it.

    VITALY CHURKIN, Russian Ambassador to United Nations (through interpreter): What are the grounds to be assured of the impartiality of such an investigation? Can it resist the aggressive propaganda backdrop in the media?

  • GWEN IFILL:

    There have been 15 months of heavy fighting in Eastern Ukraine, known as the Donbass, between separatists backed by Russia and the kin military. More than 6,500 people have been killed.

    The fighting there followed Russia's March 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. But even beyond that conflict, there's been a spike this year in Russian air incursions near NATO countries, including the United States. Last month, American fighter jets intercepted Russian TU-95 bombers off the coasts of Alaska and California.

    In response to Russia's actions, NATO countries have stepped up military exercises in Ukraine and across the Baltic states. In a visit to Estonia last fall, President Obama made the U.S. commitment clear.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    An attack on one is an attack on all. So, if, in such a moment, you ever ask again, who will come to help, you will know the answer, the NATO Alliance, including the armed forces of the United States of America, right here, present, now. GWEN IFILL: The U.S. has been training Ukrainian forces. So far, it's limited to instructing national guard units, but the State Department said last week that the mission will be expanded to include regular military forces later this year.

    The man overseeing U.S. operations in Europe and serving as NATO supreme allied commander is General Philip Breedlove. He visited Ukraine last week. And I spoke with him today at the Pentagon.

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