Ukraine Rebels
Ukraine Rebels

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday stressed Washington’s commitment to helping Ukraine’s military, and said sanctions against Russia would remain in place until Moscow reversed its policy on Ukraine.

Mattis said a new military aid package with Ukraine would help Kiev defend itself and accused Russia of seeking to “redraw international borders” by force.

“Mr President, we continue to support Ukraine and remain committed to building the capacity of your armed forces,” Mattis said after meeting Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for talks.

Washington had recently approved delivery of military equipment worth $175 million (148 million euros) to Ukraine that would boost its defense capacities, he said.

This brought total military aid to $750 million since 2015, although the issue of lethal weaponry was still under consideration, he added.

“On the defensive lethal weapons, we are actively reviewing it,” said Mattis.

“Defensive weapons are not provocative unless you are an aggressor. And surely Ukraine is not an aggressor.”

Kiev has for several years pushed for help with lethal weapons, particularly anti-tank missiles, and the US Senate in 2015 approved a bill that allowed such deliveries.

However the decision was ultimately opposed by the former administration of Barack Obama.

Mattis’ visit to Kiev coincided with festivities for Ukraine’s Independence Day.

Twenty-four US soldiers joined the military parade, marching with Ukrainian troops for the first time in the country’s history.

But the celebrations were marred by an explosion in the city center, close to the building housing the cabinet of ministers, which the authorities blamed on “hooliganism.”

Three bystanders were injured in the blast and hospitalized, police said, as they launched an investigation into attempted murder.

Poroshenko said after talks with Mattis that he was “thankful to our American partners, first of all for the effective military aid from the first moments of Russian aggression.

We decided to expand this cooperation…,” he added. “I can say that as president I am pleased with the discussions.”

“The United States stands with Ukraine,” Mattis said, accusing Moscow of “seeking to redraw international borders by force, undermining the sovereign and free nations of Europe.”

Sanctions against Russia “will remain in place until Moscow reverses the actions that triggered them,” he said.

Kiev is battling a pro-Russian insurgency in the eastern regions of Lugansk and Donetsk, which border Russia.

Pro-Russian fighter in parts of these regions declared independence in 2014, shortly after Moscow seized the Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea from Ukraine.

The United States and the European Union have unleashed a series of punishing economic sanctions against Russia.

More than 10,000 people have died in the conflict. Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of orchestrating and fueling it with weapons and troops brought across the porous border.

A series of ceasefires has dampened the violence, but not ended it.

The latest truce was agreed this week and will go into effect Friday ahead of the start of the new school year.