WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Ukraine assured the United States on Wednesday that it had a policy against using the armed forces against demonstrators, the Pentagon said, after Washington expressed alarm at Kiev's deployment of riot police against anti-government protests.
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, in a call with his Ukrainian counterpart, called for restraint and warned of the "potential damage of any involvement by the military in breaking up the demonstrations," Pentagon spokesman Carl Woog said.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Pavlo Lebedyev said he would pass along the messsage directly to President Viktor Yanukovich, who is facing calls for his resignation over his decision to scrap a trade deal with the European Union and steer Ukraine closer to Russia.
"Minister Lebedyev stated that it is President Yanukovich's position not to use the armed forces against the protesters,"Woog said.
Ukrainian protesters stood their ground on Wednesday after authorities made their most forceful attempt so far to reclaim the streets by sending in battalions of riot police with bulldozers to clear Independence Square in Kiev. There were scuffles and arrests, but police did not enter the nearby City Hall and by morning they withdrew from the streets.
In some of the strongest comments from Washington so far, the White House spokesman urged Yanukovich to listen to the people and resume Ukraine's integration with Europe.
US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of "disgust" at the use of force and a spokeswoman for his department said Washington was considering sanctions against Ukraine, among other options - a move that could further sour relations with Russia, which says the West is trying to browbeat Kiev to weaken Moscow.