US risks ‘colossal damage’ to relations if it arms Ukraine, Moscow warns

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Dan McLaughlin – February 6, 2015

Russia has warned the United States that arming Ukraine in its fight with Moscow-backed separatists would do “colossal damage” to already fractious relations between Washington and the Kremlin.

As German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president François Hollande revealed that they were travelling to Kiev and Moscow to discuss new peace proposals, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said yesterday his country was “seriously concerned” by possible western weapons supplies to Ukraine.

“Without a doubt, if such a decision is realised, it will cause colossal damage to US-Russian relations, especially if the residents of Donbass [Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions] start to be killed by American weapons,” Mr Lukashevich said. “This would not only threaten to escalate the situation in the southeast of Ukraine, but threaten the security of Russia, whose territory has been repeatedly shelled from Ukraine.”

President Barack Obama is coming under growing pressure from US congressmen to supply arms to Ukraine’s military, to help it withstand an offensive from separatist insurgents who use heavy weaponry provided by Russia.

Mr Obama’s nominee for defence secretary, Ashton Carter, told a Senate hearing this week that he personally would “very much incline” toward providing some materiel to Kiev.

“The president will make his decision, I’m confident, soon,” US secretary of state John Kerry said in Kiev, adding that “the first preference is obviously to be able to resolve this through diplomacy. The president is reviewing all of his options with respect to where we are, and the reason for that is very simple: the violence has gotten worse.

“We are not interested in a proxy war. Our objective is to change Russia’s behaviour, and we will consider all options.”

Washington has spearheaded the West’s imposition of economic sanctions against Russian officials, businessmen and firms for the country’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The EU is divided over how tough a line to take against Moscow, and in Kiev yesterday Mr Hollande said European nations should work with Ukraine and Russia to resolve a crisis that that killed more than 5,350 people and displaced more than one million.

His failure to mention any US involvement in the latest peace bid was notable, and may play well with Russian president Vladimir Putin, who believes Washington is intent on weakening his country and encircling it with hostile states.

Mr Hollande also made clear that France was “not in favour of Ukraine’s entry into Nato”.

“For the Russians who are worried . . . we have to settle this problem among Europeans. We are on the same continent,” Mr Hollande added.

The military alliance irked Moscow yesterday, however, when defence ministers of Nato member states approved plans to create a network of east European command centres to counter a perceived heightened threat from Russia.

The centres, staffed by national and Nato officers, will be established in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, to co-ordinate exercises and reinforcements for those countries in the event of a security crisis.

Nato defence chiefs also agreed to double the size of the alliance’s “response force” and form a new quick-reaction unit of 5,000 troops.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said the measures were “a response to the aggressive actions we have seen from Russia . . . This is the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War.”

In Moscow, Mr Lukashevich called Nato’s intentions “very worrying”, and added: “This is about creating additional operational capabilities that would allow the alliance to react near the Russian borders. . . Such decisions will naturally be taken into account in our military planning.”

 

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