Russia said on Thursday that the United States providing weapons to Ukraine’s government to fight separatists in the country’s east would escalate the conflict and be in violation of a number of agreements.
Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of President Vladimir Putin's Security Council, told a meeting of the Kremlin advisory body Thursday that the United States is "one of the initiators of the conflict" in Ukraine, adding that if it supplies weapons to Ukraine's government, "the conflict will grow."
Earlier Thursday, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexander Lukashevich issued a similar warning.
“If there is a change of policy [of providing only non-lethal assistance to Ukraine], then we can speak of a serious destabilizing factor that can seriously impact the balance of forces in this region,” Lukashevich told a news conference in Moscow.
The warnings came a day after a ranking U.S. official suggested Washington should consider offering lethal assistance to Ukraine, in addition to the non-lethal aid it is already providing.
Speaking before lawmakers Wednesday, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said that arming Ukraine's military could force Russia to rethink its role in the conflict gripping eastern Ukraine. Blinken’s statement came during Senate hearings on his confirmation as deputy secretary of state.
Lukashevich cautioned against “a major change in policy of the [U.S.] administration in regard to the conflict” in Ukraine.
“That [would be] a direct violation of agreements reached, including [agreements reached] with the participation of the United States,” he said.
The warnings by Russian officials also coincided with the arrival in Kyiv of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden for talks with Ukrainian officials.
Biden arrived Thursday evening. According to the White House, on Friday he will have talks with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, meet and deliver a joint statement with President Petro Poroshenko, and participate in a round-table on corruption in Ukraine.
Lawmakers in both houses of the U.S. Congress have signaled support for offering lethal aid to Ukraine but the Obama administration has so far stopped short of providing such assistance.
The Kyiv government and a host of Western nations have accused Moscow of fueling the separatist conflict in east Ukraine by directly supporting rebels with manpower and arms, including heavy weapons.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied direct involvement, and says Russian soldiers who might be fighting alongside rebels in east Ukraine are doing so of their own volition and on their own time.
New casualty figures
Meanwhile, the United Nations says in a new human rights monitoring report released Thursday that 4,317 people have been killed and 9,921 wounded in the conflict in east Ukraine since mid-April.
The report says that nearly a 1,000 people have been killed and serious human rights violations committed in the weeks since representatives of Ukraine's government and the rebels signed a cease-fire agreement September 5.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein says civilians have been killed, illegally detained, tortured and have continued to disappear since the agreement was signed.
Nearly a million people have fled the area, with numbers surging in the past two months, the U.N. says.
Some material for this report came from Reuters.