WASHINGTON, Feb 19 (Reuters) - The Pentagon renewed warnings on Wednesday for Ukraine to keep its armed forces away from swelling anti-government protests, as the country reeled from its worst violence since its independence from the Soviet Union.
At least 26 people, including 10 policemen, were killed in Kiev after riot police entered Independence Square on Tuesday and battled government protesters, triggering threats of sanctions from the West.
As the White House urged the Ukrainian government to pull back riot police, call a truce and hold discussions with the opposition, the Pentagon cautioned that any Ukrainian military involvement to quell demonstrations would have "consequences."
"The Department of Defense is encouraged that the Ukrainian armed forces have not been brought into this crisis. We urge them to remain on the sidelines," said Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren.
"Participation would have consequences in our defense relationship."
Warren declined to detail those consequences but noted that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made a similar warning in his phone call with Ukrainian Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedyev in December.
Earlier on Wednesday, Ukraine's defense ministry said the armed forces might take part in a countrywide anti-terrorist operation organized by the state security service.
It has previously said that troops could only be used domestically if a state of emergency were declared. (Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by James Dalgleish)