WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is reconsidering whether to provide weapons to Ukraine in its fight against Russian-backed separatists, senior administration officials said on Monday, but that no decision had been made.
“It’s getting a fresh look,” a senior administration official said of deliberations among Obama administration officials whether to send defensive weapons to prop up Ukrainian forces. “Where things will end up, we don’t know.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Kiev on Thursday for talks with Ukraine’s government, the same day NATO defence ministers meet in Brussels to discuss Ukraine.
The policy rethink reflects what U.S. officials say is a frustration with Moscow’s continued support for rebels despite months of international economic sanctions, and the collapse of the latest attempt at peace talks at the weekend.
Washington already provides non-lethal military equipment to Ukraine. It has delayed any decision for months on providing arms, from rifles to anti-tank weapons, as it sought a diplomatic solution.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States was particularly concerned with mounting violence after months of fighting close to the Russian border.
Separatists pounded positions of Ukrainian government troops holding a strategic rail town on Monday as both sides mobilized more forces. Five Ukrainian soldiers were killed in clashes at the weekend and 15 civilians died on Saturday.
While the United States and Western allies pursue a diplomatic solution, the administration is constantly reviewing how to help Ukraine, Psaki said. “We haven’t taken options on or off the table.”
The West says the rebels are armed by Russia and supported by several thousand Russian troops, a claim Moscow denies. Both the EU and United States have imposed economic sanctions against Russia.
“I don’t think anybody wants to get into a proxy war with Russia,” Psaki said, “Our objective here is to change the behaviour of Russia. That’s the reason we have put the sanctions in place.”
U.S. President Barack Obama will host German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House on Monday for talks that will include Ukraine. She has said Germany would not supply weapons to Kiev’s military.
Paul Saunders, executive director of the Center for the National Interest, a conservative-leaning think tank in Washington, said Obama was unlikely to provide lethal assistance to the Ukrainian government.
“If you are talking about Ukraine and arming the Kiev government to fight the separatists, what you are really talking about is getting into a proxy war with Russia,” he added. “Where does that end?”
Additional reporting by Warren Strobel. Editing by Mohammad Zargham, David Storey and Gunna Dickson