BARACK Obama has said the United States may provide arms to Ukraine in its war with Moscow-backed rebels, saying: “We cannot stand idly by and watch the borders of Europe be redrawn at the barrel of a gun.”
The US president was speaking at a joint press conference with German chancellor Angela Merkel, who was in Washington to secure US support for a Franco-German peace plan that aims to silence the guns in Europe’s worst conflict in decades, and its worst political crisis since the end of the Cold War.
Germany and France want to get Russia and Ukraine to meet in Minsk for a four-way summit tomorrow to discuss the conflict.
Mr Obama said Russia had violated “every commitment” of a previous peace agreement signed in Minsk last September that now lies in tatters owing to heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine. He said the US would consider all options if diplomacy failed.
“The possibility of lethal defensive weapons is one of those options that is being examined, but I have not made a decision about that yet,” he said.
The US president has come under increasing domestic pressure to supply arms to Ukraine, despite European fears that such a move would escalate the conflict.
“The Ukrainians are being slaughtered and we’re sending them blankets and meals,” Senator John McCain, one of the most vocal advocates of supplying weapons, said. “Blankets don’t do well against Russian tanks.”
Both Mr Obama and Ms Merkel said they were united in trying to find a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine, despite pressure on Washington to provide arms.
Ms Merkel said they “would continue to pursue a diplomatic decision” and once again reiterated her belief that there was no “military solution” to the crisis.
The commitment to finding a diplomatic solution and to using sanctions on Russia as the primary weapon appeared to scotch rumours of divisions in the transatlantic alliance caused by a more-hawkish US favouring arming Ukraine.
Yesterday’s statements came as death and violence continued unabated in Ukraine.
The country’s defence ministry told reporters yesterday morning that nine soldiers had been killed and 26 wounded in fighting in eastern Ukraine, while at least seven civilians had died from shell fire in the contested town of Debaltseve, which lies to the north-east of Donetsk.
The war has now claimed more than 5,300 lives and driven an estimated 1.5 million people from their homes.
Kiev holds Moscow responsible for first fermenting the violence in eastern Ukraine and then expanding it by supporting rebels with weapons and regular troops.
Yesterday, Ukraine claimed more Russian troops and heavy weapons had crossed the border to add their weight to a rebel offensive that has put the Ukrainian army on the back foot.
“One thousand five hundred Russian soldiers and 300 pieces of military equipment, including Grad missile systems, crossed the Ukraine-Russia border on 7 and 8 February,” Andriy Lysensko, a Ukraine military spokesman said.