By Daniel Flynn
DAKAR (Reuters) - Ukraine's foreign minister urged Europe and the United States to begin supplying arms to his country, saying it would help deter pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's eastern provinces and restore peace.
Pavlo Klimkin said that, although a ceasefire deal agreed in Minsk in September with Russia and rebels was being violated daily, it remained the best blueprint for ending violence in which more than 4,300 people have died since mid-April.
Klimkin said that easing tensions would require pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces to withdraw artillery from the frontline, allow international monitoring of the Russian-Ukranian border, humanitarian access and the release of some 500 prisoners, most of them civilians.
Russia, which annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in March, denies Ukrainian and Western accusations that it has sent troops and military equipment to separatist rebels. It says Western military backing for Ukraine could escalate the crisis.
"It is a mistake by our European and American partners to say providing weapons and military technical assistance would create the potential for escalation," Klimkin told Reuters in an interview late on Sunday. "On the contrary, it would be an important step towards de-escalating the situation because no-one would go further if Ukrainian military forces get stronger."
While the United States and its European allies have imposed several rounds of economic sanctions on Russia for its seizure of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine, they have stopped short of providing lethal military aid, despite Kiev's appeals.
Washington says it has committed about $118 million to Ukraine's security forces in non-lethal equipment, such as vehicles, body armour and radar installations.
The separatist movements erupted after violent street protests in February toppled the pro-Moscow government of President Viktor Yanukovich, who had tried to steer Ukraine away from closer European integration.
Klimkin said a new coalition government due to be announced on Tuesday would pursue reforms needed for closer ties with Europe.
"The new government's whole reform programme is about how to implement in the most speedy way possible the E.U. Association Agreement," he said, saying that Russia should not interpret this as a threat to its security.
"Our European integration would bring Russia many opportunities in terms of access to the common market."
Under the Minsk agreement, Kiev stood ready to hand greater autonomy to Donetsk and Luhansk, on condition that proper regional elections were held. Klimkin rejected polls held on Nov. 2 that elected rebel leaders as a sham.
(Reporting by Daniel Flynn)