Ceasefire extended in eastern Ukraine as US sends military equipment to Kyiv

A senior Russian diplomat says the U.S. decision to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons will fuel the conflict in the country’s east.
U.S. officials said Friday that President Donald Trump’s administration approved a plan to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine, including Javelin anti-tank missiles. Ukraine has long sought the weapons for its fight against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 10,000 since April 2014.
Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told the state RIA Novosti news agency Saturday that the U.S. move “raises the danger of derailing the process of peaceful settlement in Ukraine.”
A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany has helped reduce the scale of fighting in eastern Ukraine, but clashes have continued and the agreement’s provisions for political settlement have stalled.
Ukraine's president and Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the decision to recommit to a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine first agreed in 2015. But the US is reported to be sending lethal weapons to Kyiv.
Ukrainian soldier training near Troitske
Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Friday welcomed a decision by pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces to recommit to a ceasefire agreement signed in 2015.
The pair said it should lead to a longer-term improvement of the security situation.
Despite the ceasefire, casualties in eastern Ukraine have been reported on a regular basis.
Poroshenko told the chancellor that he would work for an exchange of prisoners held by both sides in the conflict, a spokesman for Merkel said on Friday. They both regarded it as: "an important step toward implementation of the Minsk agreements," Merkel's deputy spokesman Georg Streiter said.
"President Poroshenko stressed that he would push to ensure that this exchange happened as soon as possible," Streiter added.
Implementing the Minsk protocol
In September 2014, representatives of Ukraine, the Russian Federation and rebel groups in Donetsk and Lugansk signed a protocol in Minsk agreeing to halt the war in the Donbass region. Despite this, and a further agreement in 2015, thousands of people have died in an ongoing conflict.
In a telephone conversation on Thursday, Merkel and Putin agreed to try to create the conditions for Russian ceasefire observers to be able to return to east Ukraine. German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement that Merkel had told Putin that Moscow should help to resolve the situation there.
A Ukrainian army position in eastern Ukraine
A Ukrainian army position in eastern Ukraine
On Monday, Russian military observers had pulled out of the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC) in Ukraine, accusing the Ukrainian side of obstructing their work and limiting access to the front line. The JCCC plays an important role in supporting the observer mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Merkel and Poroshenko agreed that the Russians should return to the JCCC quickly. They also raised the possibility that German and French experts could become involved in a mediating role in the coming days.
US weapons planned for Ukraine
Despite the move towards a ceasefire, there were reports on Friday that the US administration had approved a plan to provide Javelin anti-tank missiles and other lethal weapons to Ukraine.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Friday the US had decided to provide "enhanced defensive capabilities" to help Ukraine build its military long-term, defend its sovereignty and "deter further
aggression."
US Lawmakers have been calling for lethal weapons to be supplied to Ukraine for some time.  Under law, the State Department must tell Congress of planned foreign military sales.
The decision is likely to increase tensions between the US and Russia, which denies supporting, arming or training the rebels in eastern Ukraine.