Rebel Weapon Buildup Raises Tension in Ukraine, Klimkin Says

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Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said that a buildup in arms supplies to pro-Russian separatists risks worsening tensions in the country’s easternmost regions.

“We are seeing more and more weapons, including heavy weaponry, in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, more possibilities for terrorists training,” Klimkin said in an interview in New York Wednesday. “There is an extremely high number of armed people there, those who must be disarmed according to the Minsk agreements. All that means additional risks.”

Ukraine has been seeking help abroad to shore up its military, claiming rebels are violating a cease-fire forged in February. NATO’s top military commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, said on Thursday that Russia is increasing its control over separatist forces. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied claims by the U.S. and its allies that his government is helping the rebels with soldiers, cash and weapons.

“It is becoming much more structured by Russian leadership,” Breedlove said at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington.

Clashes in eastern Ukraine have intensified after separatists killed a civilian in a rocket attack, fired on government positions and attacked a local power plant, Ukrainian authorities said on Wednesday. The confrontations followed fighting near the Sea of Azov port of Mariupol this week that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called “the most intense” in more than two months.

Arming Ukraine

The risk of an escalation must be defused, Klimkin said.

“We have to make every effort -- not just Ukraine, but also its international partners and particularly the OSCE mission to the region -- that we are in control of the situation and are able to end any attempts to destabilize it,” he said.

Breedlove, who also heads U.S. European Command, renewed his support for sending weapons to Ukraine’s government to help fight the Russian-backed rebels.

“It would not make sense for us to take any of our own tools off the table,” Breedlove said. “We should consider changing the decision calculus of Mr. Putin.”

U.S. President Barack Obama and his aides have indicated arming the separatists could exacerbate the conflict and wouldn’t overcome Russia’s military and geographic advantages.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also agreed with leaders of Russia, Ukraine and France on Thursday that they must stabilize the “fragile” cease-fire in Ukraine and move forward with the political process, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in an e-mailed statement.

Working groups between the OSCE and officials from Russia, Ukraine, and the self-styled separatist territories should meet in the coming week in Minsk, Seibert said. He added that Merkel, Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and French President Francois Hollande will assess progress on Ukraine in three months.

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