(Recasts with Hagel comments, details on aid)
By Phil Stewart and Missy Ryan
WASHINGTON, April 17 The United States said on
Thursday it would send Ukraine's armed forces medical supplies,
sleeping mats and other non-lethal aid, seeking to signal
support for Kiev while stopping far short of adding any U.S.
weaponry to a deepening standoff with Russia.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made the announcement at the
Pentagon as Kiev grapples with a pro-Russia uprising that has
seen fighters seize whole swathes of Ukraine while Moscow masses
tens of thousands of troops on the frontier.
Hagel voiced deep concern over "Russia's ongoing
destabilizing activities in eastern Ukraine."
"De-escalation has been our focus and Russia must take steps
to make that happen," he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who overturned decades of
post-Cold War diplomacy last month by declaring Russia had a
right to intervene in neighboring countries and annexing
Ukraine's Crimea region, accused the authorities in Kiev on
Thursday of plunging the country into an "abyss."
Hagel said he spoke on Thursday with his Ukrainian
counterpart to inform him of additional non-lethal military
assistance, including helmets and water purification units for
Ukraine's armed forces.
The United States would also provide small power generators
and hand fuel pumps for Ukraine's state border guard service, he
"The United States will continue to review additional
support that we can provide to Ukraine," Hagel said.
Kiev has long asked for military support from the United
States, which U.S. officials, speaking on condition of
anonymity, have said included small arms, as well as non-lethal
assistance, including military food rations.
But President Barack Obama's government has focused on
providing financial support for Ukraine and pressuring Russia
diplomatically, instead of trying to quickly overhaul Ukraine's
heavily outnumbered and outgunned forces.
NATO has also made clear it will not intervene militarily in
Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, despite Russia's annexation
of Ukraine's Crimea region and a buildup of Russian forces on
the Ukrainian border.
It is focusing instead on boosting temporarily its presence
in eastern Europe in a drive to reassure allies, such as the
ex-Soviet Republics in the Baltics, that NATO would protect them
if they ever faced Russian aggression.
Speaking at a Pentagon news conference alongside Polish
Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak, Hagel said the United States
was looking at additional steps to reinforce NATO allies in
central and eastern Europe.
He noted the United States would keep 12 F-16 fighter jets
and 200 support personnel in Poland through the end of 2014.
His comments came a day after NATO announced it would send
more ships, planes and troops to eastern Europe "within days."
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Missy Ryan and Eric