Russian officials said Saturday that the U.S. decision to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons to combat Russian-backed separatists will cause new bloodshed, as long-standing tensions between Washington and Moscow escalated over the four-year-old conflict.
Moscow’s admonition came shortly after the State Department announced Friday evening that the United States will provide heavy armaments to Ukraine for the first time, a step up from the support equipment and training offered so far. A statement by spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the weapons were defensive in nature, “as part of our effort to help Ukraine build its long-term defense capacity, to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to deter further aggression.”
On Wednesday, Washington said it had approved an export license allowing the sale of light weapons and small arms to Ukraine from commercial U.S. manufacturers.
The U.S. decision to provide lethal weapons brought a predictably sharp rebuke from Moscow, which has tacitly backed the separatists in eastern Ukraine while denying that it actively supports them.
“The United States has crossed a line by announcing its intention to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Saturday. “U.S. weapons are capable of leading to new casualties in our neighboring country, and we cannot remain indifferent to that.”
Moscow has long maintained that U.S. authorities organized and oversaw the Maidan protests in Kiev that led then-President Viktor Yanukovych to flee to Russia in early 2014. Russian state television programs constantly portray Ukraine as a failed state with neo-fascist leaders bent on oppressing ethnic Russians in the country’s eastern Donbas region.
“The United States is clearly prompting them to a new bloodshed now,” Ryabkov said in comments posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website. “Kyiv’s revenge-seekers have already been shelling Donbas every day and are unwilling to hold peace talks, while dreaming about doing away with the disobedient population. And the U.S. has decided to give them the weapons for it.”
Moscow also blames deep-seated anti-Russian sentiment for the chill in U.S.-Russian relations.
“Russophobia is obstructing the views of many of them so much now that they cheerfully applaud to punishers from Ukrainian nationalist battalions,” Ryabkov said.
Moscow’s admonition came shortly after a cease-fire went into effect between Ukraine and Russian-speaking rebels, in acknowledgment of Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Almost immediately, each side accused the other of violating the cease-fire.