WASHINGTON, Feb 21 (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel commended Ukraine on Friday for keeping its armed forces on the sidelines of the country's political crisis, in a long-awaited call with his Ukrainian counterpart after multiple attempts to reach him this week.
The Pentagon had told reporters on Thursday that it had been unable to connect with anyone at Ukraine's Defense Ministry in recent days, as violence flared in Kiev and Ukraine named a new head of the armed forces general staff.
A breakthrough peace deal on Friday halted two days of violence that had turned the center of the capital into a war zone and killed 77 people. Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovich agreed to give up powers, hold early elections and form a government of national unity.
Throughout it all, Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev said in the call with Hagel, his country's armed forces kept their focus "on protecting defense facilities and equipment," the Pentagon said in a statement.
Hagel "commended the government's decision to keep the military on the sidelines of the crisis thus far and urged continued restraint," Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.
Lebedev expressed his appreciation for U.S. involvement in negotiations to resolve the crisis, Kirby said. (Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)
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