The commander of NATO forces in Europe, US General Curtis Scaparrotti, has said he wants to bolster Ukraine’s defences against Russia’s “increasingly aggressive” posture in the east of the country and the Black Sea.
In the past year, the United States has already sold Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine but there are “other systems, snipers systems, ammunition” that Washington could provide to strengthen Kiev’s forces, Scaparrotti told the US Congress.
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The general added that the US may have to consider boosting naval defences in the Black Sea after Russian forces shot at and seized three Ukrainian ships late last year as they were traversing the Kerch Strait linking the Sea of Azov with the Black Sea.
Five years after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, Moscow “continues to arm, train” and even “fight alongside anti-government forces in eastern Ukraine”, said Scaparrotti, calling Moscow’s activities a breach of a 2015 agreement designed to end the conflict.
“The conflict in eastern Ukraine remains hot, with numerous ceasefire violations reported weekly,” he said.
The conflict in Ukraine began in 2014 when Moscow-backed rebels seized parts of the country’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, protesting the removal of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovich.
The breakaway regions declared independence from the European-oriented Kiev, shortly after Russia annexed Crimea, a neighbouring Ukrainian peninsula.
The agreement reached in the Belarusian capital Minsk between Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany in 2015 stopped a full-scale war in the country, but skirmishes keep claiming lives on the line of separation.
The violence between the Ukrainian government forces and the separatists has claimed about 13,000 lives.
Russia denies the presence of its soldiers in Ukraine or supplying rebels with weapons.
Last November saw Moscow acknowledge its first direct violence against Kiev when Russian warships opened fire on four Ukrainian military vessels in the Black Sea.
The confrontation that led to the seizure of the Ukrainian warships and arrest of all 24 crew members by the Russian forces has prompted international condemnation of Moscow.