US warships remain in Mediterranean amid Ukraine, Russia fears

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WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered a US Navy aircraft carrier strike group to remain in the Mediterranean Sea region rather than travel to the Middle East, while on s ‘worried about the accumulation of thousands of Russian soldiers near the Ukrainian border.

A defense official said on Tuesday that the schedule change of the USS Harry S. Truman, and the five accompanying US warships, reflects the need for a continued presence in Europe. This is necessary to reassure US allies and partners in the region, said the official, who requested anonymity to discuss the details of the military deployment.

The United States and its Western allies have seen the build-up of Russian troops near the border peak at around 100,000, fueling fears that Moscow is preparing to invade Ukraine.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and soon after supported a separatist rebellion in the east of the country. For more than seven years, fighting left more than 14,000 dead and devastated the industrial heart of Ukraine, known as Donbass.

Russia has denied any intention of launching a new invasion and instead accused Ukraine of making plans to try to use force to regain control of territory held by Moscow-backed rebels. Ukraine rejected this claim.

The Truman Strike Group consists of five American ships: the cruiser USS San Jacinto and the guided-missile destroyers USS Cole, USS Bainbridge, USS Gravely, and USS Jason Dunham. The Royal Norwegian Navy frigate HNoMS Fridtjof Nansen also accompanies them.

The Truman left her home port of Norfolk, Va., On December 1, and entered the Mediterranean Sea on December 14. He was to continue in the Gulf region.

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