The Pentagon has altered the scheduled deployment mission of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman, it's been revealed this week, amid heightened concerns over a potential Russian incursion into eastern Ukraine, which Kiev officials claim is coming at some point in January. Top US commanders have ordered the carrier to stay in the Mediterranean longer than planned.
"A U.S. carrier strike group is lingering in the Mediterranean Sea rather than journeying to the Middle East on orders from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, USNI News learned on Tuesday," the US Navy monitoring site reports, based on defense official statements.
"The schedule change, blessed by Austin, is to reassure European allies of US commitment to regional security, one official said without mentioning the ongoing Russian military buildup on the eastern border of Ukraine," the report adds.
However, an unnamed defense official indicated that the carrier staying in the Mediterranean is precisely all about the intensifying Ukraine issue, also as US-NATO and Russia talks are set to commence in January. Moscow is seeking legal and security guarantees from Brussels and Washington that there won't be any further eastward expansion. The Russians are especially concerned over prior promises of a "path to NATO membership" for Ukraine and Georgia.
The USS Truman was supposed to soon transit toward the Persian Gulf via a Suez Canal passage, but has now been ordered to remain in the Ionian Sea between Greece and Italy.
The carrier is being escorted by the guided-missile cruiser USS San Jacinto, as well as the guided-missile destroyers USS Cole, USS Bainbridge, USS Gravely and USS Jason Dunham. Currently a Norwegian Navy frigate is also traversing with the US carrier group. The US group's presence in the Mediterranean began on December 14, but now looks to have its schedule determinant on if the heated rhetoric over Ukraine cools anytime soon.
It's since been confirmed that the US and Russia will begin the much anticipated "security talks" on January 10, according to a White House official cited in NBC and Reuters, who said: "We are unified as an Alliance on the consequences Russia would face if it moves on Ukraine. But we are also unified in our willingness to engage in principled diplomacy with Russia."
The National Security Council spokesperson told NBC News that Russia "can put its concerns on the table, and we will put our concerns on the table with Russia's activities as well."
The Ukrainian government is alleging that some 120,000 Russian troops have mustered near the border in preparation for a coming offensive, which Moscow has repeatedly denied. Within the past week there have been reports the Kremlin has sent at least 10,000 troops back to their main bases, as part of a standard "training" rotation.