News spread quickly to Russia on Saturday that U.S. senators had passed a bill calling for new sanctions against Moscow and supplies of lethal military aid to Ukraine.
Yahoo News reported that the Senate bill must still be approved by the White House, which has been reluctant thus far to provide direct assistance to Ukraine. Several members of the administration do not want to start a war that it does not want to take part in.
“Undoubtedly, we will not be able to leave this without a response,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov before a meeting between Russian and U.S. foreign ministers. He blamed “anti-Russian moods” for the Senate’s move to ask for additional sanctions and up to $350 million worth of military hardware to Ukraine.
The bill has been called a “historic decision” by Kiev lawmakers, who have long awaited for the U.S. to provide military support other than non-lethal equipment.
According to figures released by the United Nations, the conflict between government forces and pro-Russian separatists has left over 4,600 dead and nearly 10,300 wounded. It has also displaced more than 1.1 million people since it began eight months ago.
Since Tuesday, a temporary ceasefire has been in place along the eastern Ukraine front line and fighting has been greatly reduced. However, on Saturday the Ukrainian army reported 11 attacks in a 24 hour period. A drone was also reported over Mariupol, a major southeastern town.
A volunteer soldier with the right-wing Pravy Sektor group stated, “The night was rough.” Identified as Maxim, he continued saying, “Snipers fired on us and explosions were coming from the airport. But everything is calm this morning.”
According to Yahoo News, Ukraine announced last Friday that it would strengthen its army next year by doubling its military budget, training 10,500 new professionals and adding an additional 40,000 soldiers. The country has been worried that Russia-backed separatists will attempt to construct a corridor between the Russian border and an area annexed by Moscow known as the Crimean peninsula.
Recognizing the severity of the move by the U.S. Senate but in an apparent attempt to steer focus in another direction, Ryabkov said although the controversy will most likely come up during the meeting between Russia and the U.S., the “main focus at their 17th meeting this year will be on the Middle East.”