U.S. defense chief praises Ukraine's restraint in Crimea crisis

WASHINGTON Wed Mar 19, 2014 7:07pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel praised the restraint of Ukraine's armed forces in the face of Moscow's takeover of the Crimean Peninsula during a phone call on Wednesday with his Ukrainian counterpart, the Pentagon said.

"(Hagel) stressed ... the United States stands by the people of Ukraine, condemns the use of force by the Russian Federation and continues to call for the removal of Russian forces," spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.

There was no mention of any Ukrainian requests for assistance in the brief statement about Hagel's conversation with Ukraine's acting defense minister, Ihor Tenyukh. Ukraine has asked for lethal and non-lethal military support from the United States, which has so far only approved military rations.

Earlier on Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama ruled out U.S. military involvement in Ukraine, emphasizing diplomatic efforts to bring pressure on Russia to loosen its grip on Crimea.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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