Moscow: U.S. arms may spur use of force by Kiev in eastern Ukraine

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The U.S. decision to supply weapons to Ukraine is dangerous as it will encourage Kiev to use force in eastern Ukraine, Russian officials said on Saturday.

The U.S. State Department said on Friday the United States would provide Ukraine with “enhanced defensive capabilities” as Kiev battles Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.

U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the weapons included Javelin anti-tank missiles. Washington has argued in the past that such weapons would help stabilize the situation and cannot effectively be used to take territory.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Facebook on Saturday the weapons would be used to protect Ukrainian soldiers and civilians.

Supplies of any weapons now encourage those who support the conflict in Ukraine to use the “force scenario,” Russia’s RIA state news agency cited Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin as saying on Saturday.

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Franz Klintsevich, a member of the upper house of the Russian parliament’s security committee, said Kiev would consider arms supplies as support of its actions, Interfax news agency reported.

“Americans, in fact, directly push Ukrainian forces to war,” Klintsevich said.

Since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine and Russia have been at loggerheads over a war in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces that has killed more than 10,000 people in three years.

Poroshenko said in his Facebook post that he had confirmed the weapons deal with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, calling it “a transatlantic vaccination against the Russian virus of aggression.”

“American weapons in the hands of Ukrainian soldiers are not for offensive, but for stronger rebuff of the aggressor, protection of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians, as well as for effective self-defense in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter,” Poroshenko said.

Kiev accuses Moscow of sending troops and heavy weapons to the region, which Russia denies.

The Russian foreign ministry said the U.S. decision once again undermines the Minsk agreements, TASS state news agency reported on Saturday.

The agreements, intended to end the fighting in Ukraine, were signed by Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France in the Belarussian capital in early 2015.

Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow; additional reporting by Chris Sanders and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Stephen Powell and Steve Orlofsky