Top U.S. diplomat cautious on sending arms to Ukraine

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 06, 2015 4:19 AM

BERLIN (Reuters) - The second-highest ranking U.S. diplomat promised on Friday to maintain pressure on Russia via economic sanctions to get it to change tack on Ukraine but appeared to rule out arming Kiev, saying Moscow would easily be able to send many more weapons.

With both the Kiev government and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine accusing each other of violating a fragile ceasefire agreed last month, U.S. President Barack Obama and European leaders are weighing their next steps to try to halt a conflict that has killed about 6,000 people since last April.

U.S. and European officials are concerned that sending arms to Kiev would risk escalating the fighting and suck them into a proxy war with Russia.

But some U.S. lawmakers are urging Obama to counter what they see as increased aggression by Russia by providing weapons to Kiev.

"We must keep up the pressure we are exerting to persuade Russia to change the direction it has struck out on in Ukraine," U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told German radio DLF in an interview broadcast on Friday.

Blinken said Ukraine "needs the ability to defend itself" and the United States is already providing non-lethal military support, he said, including training which he put in the context of joint U.S.-Ukrainian participation in missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But, asked about the possibility of the United States sending weapons, he said he did not believe there could be a military solution.

"We also know that if we were to supply more defense technology, Russia could easily counter that by providing two, three or four times what we do," said Blinken whose comments were translated from English to German.

Moscow denies Western and Ukrainian accusations that it is backing the rebels in eastern Ukraine with troops and weapons.

Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict continued on Friday. European Union foreign ministers meeting in Latvia discussed the crisis, while Berlin hosted separate talks among top foreign ministry officials from Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany.

(Reporting by Stephen Brown; Editing by Gareth Jones)