About 4,000 US soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division will remain in southeast Romania for at least nine months longer, Pentagon officials said Saturday. The troops are stationed at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, across the Black Sea from Russian forces in Crimea, the New York Times reports. It's the closest Army unit to the fighting in Ukraine and would provide the first line of defense should Russian forces move west. American troops train NATO forces at the base. The Pentagon also said it's sending a two-star general there, which analysts said could help provide quick decision-making if Russia encroaches on NATO territory. In other developments:
- Tank impasse: With a deal to provide tanks to Ukraine stalled, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania issued a joint appeal to Germany, increasing the pressure from allies. "Germany as the leading European power has special responsibility in this regard," the statement said, per the Washington Post. Pointing out that the US has not sent its M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, Germany has rejected delivering its Leopard 2 tanks or allowing other nations to do so. A Ukrainian official posted online that the allies' indecision is increasing his nation's death toll. "Think faster," Mykhailo Podolyak wrote.
- Memorial service: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and first lady Olena Zelenska laid flowers at a memorial to those killed in a helicopter crash Wednesday. Ukrainians lined the streets to watch a convoy carrying the coffins to a service pass, per CNN. The couple also met with family members of the victims, per the AP. "All this would not have happened if not for this terrible and undeclared war," said the chairman of Parliament after the service.
- Wagner Group: White House officials said the administration plans to designate the Wagner Group a "transnational criminal organization." The officials displayed satellite images they said show Russian rail cars entering North Korea to pick up weapons to be used against Ukraine, per the Washington Post. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the US "will work relentlessly to identify, disrupt, expose, and target those who are assisting Wagner," per NBC News.
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