U.S. general: Syria involvement not impacting Russian operations in Ukraine

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  • "They definitely have the ability to do both should they need to," Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said
  • Hodges said Russia still maintains a force of approximately 25,000 troops in Crimea

Washington (CNN)Russian military involvement in Syria has not significantly decreased its capabilities in eastern Ukraine, a top U.S. general said Wednesday.

"They definitely have the ability to do both, should they need to," Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe, told reporters at the Pentagon.
Hodges did say that the Russian military's slow pace of modernization might mean some soldiers in possession of advanced gear are "getting extra work" on both fronts.
    His comments came the same day that Secretary of State John Kerry said that he would be traveling to Moscow in the coming days to discuss the situation in Syria and Ukraine with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
    Following Russia's annexation of Crimea last year, Hodges said Russia maintains a force of approximately 25,000 troops there, and said that while he did not see any imminent offensive on eastern Ukraine by the Russian military, they still maintain a capability in the region to mount an offensive on "short notice."
    While the numbers of Russian forces operating along the border and inside eastern Ukraine have fluctuated, U.S. military officials believe separatist forces operating in eastern Ukraine do so with some level of control and coordination from Russia.
    Vice President Joe Biden visited Ukraine earlier this week to meet with President Petro Poroshenko and other senior officials as a show of support for the Ukrainian government in its struggles with Russia.
    "Moscow eventually has to end its occupation of Ukraine's sovereign territory," Biden said in an address to the Ukrainian parliament. "Crimea is still sovereign territory of Ukraine."
    In his briefing Wednesday, Hodges also voiced concern over the "significant amount of capability" the Russian military has placed in its territory of Kaliningrad, situated along the Baltic coast.
    "The most worrisome part is not that (Kaliningrad) sits between Poland and Lithuania, two of our allies, but it has the ability to deny access up to the Baltic Sea" because its anti-ship and anti-air capabilities help contribute to the sense of unease in Baltic countries, he said.