WASHINGTON D.C.: Military commanders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Obama administration officials appear to be moving toward supporting sending defensive weapons to Kiev’s forces fighting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, the New York Times reported on Sunday (Monday in Manila).
Though President Barack Obama has not yet decided whether to send “lethal assistance,” his administration is reviewing the issue after a surge in fighting between Kiev and Kremlin-backed rebels, the Times reported.
NATO’s military commander General Philip Breedlove now supports providing defensive weapons to Kiev’s forces, and Secretary of State John Kerry is open to fresh talks about sending lethal aid to Ukraine’s beleaguered troops.
The United States has accused Russia of conducting a proxy war in Ukraine, but has so far ruled out arms deliveries to Kiev.
The White House has instead limited US assistance to “non-lethal” aid that includes body armor, medical equipment and radar to detect mortar fire.
“Although our focus remains on pursuing a solution through diplomatic means, we are always evaluating other options that will help create space for a negotiated solution to the crisis,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan told the Times.
But with economic sanctions appearing to have little effect on Russia, the issue of defensive weapons has been pushed back into discussion.
Russia stands broadly accused of supporting the separatist movement, so the supply of lethal aid to pro-Kiev forces could raise the stakes in the conflict.
General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, is open to new discussions about providing lethal aid, as is Obama’s security adviser Susan Rice, the Times said.
“A comprehensive approach is warranted, and we agree that defensive equipment and weapons should be part of that discussion,” a Pentagon official told the Times.
An independent report to be formally issued Monday will urge the US to send $3 billion in defensive arms and equipment to Ukraine, including reconnaissance drones and anti-armor missiles.
Most of Ukraine’s aging stock of anti-armor missiles is out of commission.
The report, released jointly by the Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institution and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, is already available online.
Battles raged Sunday between government forces and pro-Russian rebels for control of a strategic transport hub as the death toll mounted in east Ukraine following the collapse of ceasefire talks.
Intense artillery fire thundered around the Kiev-controlled town of Debaltseve, a key position between the rebel bastions of Donetsk and Lugansk, where insurgent fighters are trying to encircle Ukrainian troops.
A convoy carrying an Agence France-Presse crew into the beleaguered town — which once had a population of about 25,000 — came under fire, blowing out the windows of a bus in the convoy and lightly injuring two people.
Officials said civilians were being evacuated along the only passable road linking the town to the government side and that conditions were increasingly dire for those left behind.
“People are fleeing because the shelling is non-stop. There’s no water, electricity or heating in the town,” local police commander Yevgen Lukhaniv told AFP.
Ukrainian military spokesman Volodymyr Polyovyi in Kiev said “constant battles” were going on around Debaltseve but pledged that government forces would not give up control of the last remaining road into the town.