December 12, 2014 / 11:50 AM / 3 years ago

Ukraine defense chief wants budget doubled to fight separatists

Ukraine's Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak speaks during a news conference after a meeting with Canada's Defence Minister Rob Nicholson in Kiev, December 8, 2014. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine’s defense minister called on Friday for a doubling of the military budget next year to allow the army to buy weapons abroad and better equip itself to fight Russian-backed separatists in the east.

Numbers of soldiers serving in the east, where government forces have been battling separatists since April, would also be increased to a quarter of a million next year from 232,000 currently, the minister, Stepan Poltorak, told parliament.

Poltorak said the armed forces planned to spend about $110 million on buying new weapons abroad next year in addition to $365 million spent on domestic arms procurements.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the parliament on Thursday that Ukraine, which has sought foreign help to avoid default, has to increase defense expenditure at the expense of social payments.

He did not specify which countries Ukraine was eying for financial help.

NATO countries have so far been reluctant to arm non-member Ukraine against the well-equipped rebels in order to avoid antagonizing Russia. But NATO members, the United States, Canada and Poland, have provided non-lethal aid.

During a visit to Kiev last month, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said Lithuania would provide Ukraine with military aid, but did not specify if this would include weaponry or be of the non-lethal kind.

Ukraine would also shift some of its military units closer to Moldova, its south-western neighbor, because of what it saw as a threat from Moldova’s pro-Russian breakaway region of Transdniestria, Poltorak said.

“We are facing the threat from our eastern border. But there is also a threat from Transdniestria and from the south and the quantity of our units there will be increased,” he said.

($1 = 15.6722 hryvnias)

Reporting By Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Richard Balmforth/Ruth Pitchford

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