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Finance

Ukraine needs defense aid, foreign minister says

Pavlo Klimkin

TOKYO -- Shelling continues in eastern Ukraine despite a cease-fire between pro-Russian separatists and government forces, Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said Monday, calling for international aid to help his country defend itself.

     "We don't have a sustainable cease-fire agreement," Klimkin told The Nikkei in an interview here. It is "critically important to increase the capability of our military forces. We need additional defensive weapons."

     Artillery fire was heard 17 times in the prior 24 hours in eastern Ukrainian cities, said Klimkin, who described "threatening concentrations" of separatist forces in some areas. The militants' weapons come from Russia, he said, arguing that Russian President Vladimir Putin aims to destabilize not only the Donbas region but all of Ukraine.

     A "peaceful solution is only possible when you have a sustainable cease-fire," Klimkin said.

     U.S. President Barack Obama is considering supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine. Klimkin said he had high hopes for arms from not only America but other countries.

     European nations are divided on helping Ukraine fight the separatists. The U.K. will send troops to noncombat areas of Ukraine to train government forces, Prime Minister David Cameron said last week. Germany and France are reluctant to provide military support for fear of fueling the conflict.

     After a French- and German-brokered cease-fire took effect Feb. 15, separatists and Ukrainian forces began withdrawing heavy weapons. But separatists soon overran the besieged crossroads of Debaltseve. The situation remains unstable in the coastal city of Mariupol and other areas.

A case for self-defense

U.S. military supplies to Ukraine have been limited to radar and other nonlethal equipment. Some in Washington remain wary of arming Ukrainian forces, fearing the situation may descend into a proxy war with Russia. Klimkin argued the issue for his country was not one of lethality but of defense. Ukraine wants weapons "for purely defense reasons," he insisted.

     Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called on the United Nations and the European Union to send peacekeepers to enforce the cease-fire. Klimkin said he discussed the president's appeal with EU representatives in New York a week ago. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe is not doing enough to monitor and verify implementation of the agreement, he said, adding that it has only about 500 people on the ground.

     The cease-fire calls for starting talks on self-government in areas of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine. Moscow intends to have these Russian-leaning enclaves influence the Ukrainian government's decisions in foreign, defense and economic policy, Klimkin contended.

     Russia lost one prominent critic of Moscow's involvement in Ukraine last week. Boris Nemtsov, an opposition politician, was shot dead Friday near the Kremlin. Klimkin called him "a great friend to Ukraine."

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