Dec. 23 (UPI) -- The United States plans to arm Ukraine with anti-tank missiles in its fight against Russian-backed separatists, senior State Department officials said.
"The United States has decided to provide Ukraine enhanced defensive capabilities as part of our effort to help Ukraine build its long-term defense capacity, to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to deter further aggression," spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Friday night. "U.S. assistance is entirely defensive in nature, and as we have always said, Ukraine is a sovereign country and has a right to defend itself. The United States remains committed to the Minsk agreements as the way forward in eastern Ukraine. We have no further comment, at this time."
The Kremlin criticized the anti-tank plans.
"The United States in a certain sense crossed the line, announcing the intention to transfer weapons of direct damaging action to Ukraine," Sergei Ryabkov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, said in a statement. "American weapons can lead to new victims in our neighboring country, to which we cannot remain indifferent."
Earlier the Kremlin had criticized President Donald Trump's approval of the commercial sale of small arms and light weapons to Ukraine in an announcement Wednesday. The State Department notified Congress of the president's approval of an export license for U.S. manufacturers on Dec. 13.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the sale "will once again motivate the hotheads" in the Ukrainian government and "unleash bloodshed again."
But the United States has said the arms sales are intended for defensive purposes.
CNN reported the weapons being sent are U.S.-made Javelin anti-tank missiles. President Barack Obama considered selling and financing anti-tank missiles to Ukraine but never approved the measure.
Fighting has intensified between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian-backed separatists.
On Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discussed the recent escalation in clashes with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. According to an official readout issued by the Ukrainian government, Poroshenko thanked Tillerson for "the prolongation of sanctions against Russia" and for "the consistent support of Washington regarding the increase of Ukraine's defense capacity."
Also, "Tillerson emphasized that the U.S, would further support Ukraine," according to the readout.