U.S. taking steps to help NATO allies in Europe

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is taking steps to support the defenses of U.S. allies in Europe in response to Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the U.S. will step up joint aviation training with Polish forces. The Pentagon also is increasing American participation in NATO’s air policing mission in its Baltic countries.

Hagel is telling the Senate Armed Services Committee the U.S. is reaffirming its commitment to allies in Central and Eastern Europe, some of whom suffered for a half-century under Soviet domination.

He says he’ll speak with Ukraine’s defense minister Wednesday. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey spoke to his Russian counterpart earlier Wednesday.

Hagel focused on U.S. diplomatic and aid efforts since Moscow’s incursion into Ukrainian territory last week. He didn’t mention military options.