Moscow Warns against US Giving Ukraine Lethal Weapon to Fight Pro-Russian Rebels

A Ukrainian serviceman in his position in the Avdiivka industrial zone (Promka) on the frontline near the Ukrainian government-held Avdiivka city, Ukraine, 01 July 2017, (issued 04 July 2017). Photo: Valeri Kvit/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • US seems to be ‘drifting’ towards selling lethal weapons to Ukraine, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov has said.
  • Ukraine has been fighting pro-Russian rebels in its southeast since 2014 but US military supplies to it have been limited to non-lethal weaponry for fear of provoking Moscow.
  • US decision to sell lethal weapons to Kiev would cause a ‘dangerous turn of events’, the Russian official has warned.
  • He has vowed that Moscow would respond in kind to any further US sanctions.
  • Further cuts to the diplomatic missions of the two countries would prevent them from functioning properly, he has argued.

A decision by the US government to start selling lethal weapons to Ukraine, which has been fighting a pro-Russian insurgency in its eastern Donbass region since 2014, would unlock a dangerous turn of events, according a senior Russian official.

The West and Moscow have been at odds over Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula back in 2014, and the ongoing pro-Russian insurgency in Ukraine’s Donbass region, which began later the same year.

In the winter of 2013-2014, the Euromaidan Revolution in Kiev ousted Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, and promised to bring Ukraine closer to the West, including through EU and N ATO membership.

In response, led by President Vladimir Putin, in February-March 2014, Russia occupied and then annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea.

Shortly after Russia’s seizure of Crimea, a pro-Russian insurgency possibly instigated and aided by Moscow began in the Donbass region in Eastern Ukraine and has been raging ever since.

Since then, the war in Ukraine has claimed at least 10,000 lives, and has displaced millions of people.

The Ukrainian military’s standoff with the forces of the separatist so called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic along a 400 km (250-mile) frontline has thus turned into a “cold’ conflict with “hot” flashpoints.

The US, the EU, and other Western nations have imposed sanctions on Russia over both the annexation of the Crimea and the insurgency in Ukraine’s Donbass which the West deems to be instigated and supported by Moscow.

In early August 2017, US President Donald Trump reluctantly signed the “Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act”, the law with which the US Congress slapped comprehensive new sanctions on Russia, North Korea, and Iran, while limiting the Chief Executive’s power to ease them.

At the end of July, Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced countermeasures against newly introduced US sanctions against Moscow, consisting of the kicking out of 755 US diplomatic missions staff, and the closure of a US compound and a warehouse on Russian soil.

There have been reports that Washington might decide to close down of the four Russian consulates in the US since America has only three consulates in Russia.

Pro-Russian rebels ride BM-21 ‘Grad’ rocket systems during the military parade in downtown Donetsk, Ukraine, 09 May 2017. Photo: Alexander Ermochenko/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

‘Extremely Dangerous Turn’

Russia believes the United States is becoming increasingly willing to sell lethal weapons to Ukraine, which would “bring about an extremely dangerous turn of events’, according to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

Since the Obama Administration, the US has been supplying only non-lethal weaponry to Ukraine so as not to anger Russia and cause it boost its alleged involvement in the war in Donbass.

Russia believes that the United States is drifting towards supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine, which would be a destabilizing step for the situation in Donbass, Ryabkov told International Affairs magazine in an interview, published on the Foreign Ministry’s website on Tuesday, as cited by state-run news agency TASS.

“The Trump Administration is being pushed in this direction,” Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister argued.

“The US Department of State’s special representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker during his trips to Ukraine and other countries made public statements in favor of this, too,” he noted.

Ryabkov said hypothetical supplies of “lethal weapons” would be a qualitatively new step by the United States on the Ukrainian track.

“Will it be taken? Of late, we saw Washington’s certain drift in that direction,” the Russian official said, stressing that in his opinion such a decision might bring about an extremely dangerous turn of events.

“It is clear that politically war mongers in Kiev would interpret it as a strong message in their support. In practical terms that would spell considerable destabilization of the situation in southeastern Ukraine,” Ryabkov argued.

‘God Forbid’

With respect to the recent exchange of sanctions between Washington and Moscow, the Russian Foreign Minister stated that any new US steps against Russia’s diplomatic missions would indicate if the United States is prepared to strain its relations with Russia further.

He warned that any new such measures would be met with a tit-for-tat response, by Moscow.

“We can assume that they [the United States] will now find another pretext to raise tensions further and take new steps to hamper the activities of Russia’s diplomatic missions in the US,” Ryabkov said.

“If it really happens, they will send us a signal indicating their readiness to further strain bilateral relations. We have warned them many times to avoid such actions,” the Russian diplomat added.

“God forbid Washington does something like that. In this case, we will immediately respond in kind. As a result, diplomatic missions will be deprived of a chance to operate normally, while their activities are vital for building any kind of dialogue and healthy relations,” he pointed out.

Ryabkov also insisted that as far as restrictions were concerned, Russia had been following the United States.

“They take a step down – we follow. We never put forward negative initiatives, and, on a larger political scale, we never ruin what we have,” the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister argued.

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