A leading U.S. newspaper says Washington is reconsidering its stance on providing defensive weapons and equipment to Kyiv.
The New York Times reported Sunday that while President Barack Obama has not made a decision about supplying lethal aid to Ukraine’s security forces, his administration is taking a “fresh look” at the question of military aid.
The newspaper reports that unidentified officials say Secretary of State John Kerry, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, are all open to new discussions about providing lethal assistance to Ukrainian forces.
The Times said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel already supports giving defensive weapons to the government forces, which Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko asked for in November.
NATO’s military commander, General Philip Breedlove, also supports providing the lethal assistance to Ukraine, the newspaper says.
The New York Times said an independent report being released Monday by eight former senior American officials, urging the U.S. to send $3 billion in defensive arms and equipment to Ukraine, is “fueling the broader debate” in Washington.
In December, Obama signed legislation authorizing $350 million in lethal and non-lethal military aid to Kyiv. But a White House spokesman at the time said the president had misgivings about delivering such hardware – a move that many analysts say would be viewed by Russia as a major Western military provocation.
Sunday, President Obama said there has been no recognition by the Kremlin that it is in Russia’s interests to resolve the issue over the long term.
He told CNN television that rebels are Russian financed, Russian trained and reliant on the Kremlin for military strategy. He said his administration will continue pressuring Moscow economically, while conveying to Russian President Vladimir Putin that diplomatic resolutions remain available.
The Ukraine conflict has killed more than 5,100 people since it erupted last April following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
Ukraine authorities said Monday five soldiers have been killed in the past day in eastern Ukraine. And municipal authorities in Donetsk say 15 civilians have been killed there in the past few days.
The casualties are the latest since peace talks with pro-Russian rebels collapsed on Saturday. Since then, fighting has raged in the self-declared separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, and around Ukraine-held Debaltseve.
The latest fighting erupted after peace envoys from both sides abandoned talks in Belarus without progress toward a deal ending the nearly 10-month conflict.
A statement from the trilateral contact group trying to advance the talks said rebel envoys were not prepared to discuss implementation of a cease-fire and withdrawal of heavy weapons.
Instead, contact group representatives from Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said rebel envoys wanted to revisit the now-failed Minsk talks that laid the groundwork for a truce in September.
That cease-fire has been repeatedly violated and collapsed completely last week when rebels announced the start of a new offensive designed to expand their territory.