Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier strike group to remain in the Mediterranean Sea region instead of moving on to the Middle East, amid concerns over the buildup of thousands of Russian troops near the Ukraine border.
A defense official said Tuesday that the change in the schedule of the USS Harry S. Truman, and the five American warships accompanying it, reiterate the need for a continued presence in Europe.
The U.S. and Western allies have seen the buildup of Russian troops near the border grow to an estimated 100,000, adding to fears that Moscow was preparing to invade Ukraine.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and shortly after supported a separatist rebellion in the country’s east. Over seven years, the fighting has killed over 14,000 people and ruined Ukraine’s industrial heartland, known as the Donbas.
Russia has denied having plans to launch a new invasion and has alternately accused Ukraine of making plans to use force to reclaim control of the territories held by Moscow-backed rebels. Ukraine has denied that claim.
The Truman strike group includes five U.S. ships —- the cruiser USS San Jacinto and the guided-missile destroyers USS Cole, USS Bainbridge, USS Gravely, and USS Jason Dunham. Also with them is the Royal Norwegian Navy frigate HNoMS Fridtjof Nansen.
The Truman left its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia, on Dec. 1, and entered the Mediterranean Sea on Dec. 14. It was initially scheduled to continue on into the Gulf region.