Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a stern warning to the U.S. on Tuesday, suggesting at a news conference that any attempt to supply Ukraine with defensive weapons could further escalate the conflict there and possibly invigorate pro-Russian forces.
Putin told reporters at a news conference Tuesday morning that the move, which is being considered by Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE, would "increase" the "number of casualties" caused by the fighting between Ukraine and armed separatists in the country's east.
“The delivery of weapons to a conflict zone doesn’t help peacekeeping efforts, but only worsens the situation,” Putin said Tuesday.
“Such a decision would not change the situation but the number of casualties could increase,” he added.
The Russian leader then went further, suggesting that pro-Russian separatist "republics" in the eastern part of the country could possibly deploy their forces elsewhere.
“The self-declared republics have enough weapons, including ones captured from the other side,” Putin told reporters.
“It’s hard to imagine how the self-declared republics would respond. Perhaps they would deploy weapons to other conflict zones."
Ukraine and Russia have been at odds since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and armed separatists declared themselves independent. The resulting conflict has killed more than 10,000 people.
Last month, Mattis told reporters that he was "actively reviewing" whether to send defensive heavy weapons to Ukraine, a fellow NATO member.
“On the defensive lethal weapons, we are actively reviewing it,” Mattis said during a press conference alongside Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in August.
“I will go back, now, having seen the current situation, and be able to inform the secretary of State and the president in very specific terms what I recommend for the direction ahead.”