US President Barack Obama says he has not yet decided whether to send “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine, but this option is being “examined”.
Speaking a joint news conference in Washington with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Obama said prospects of a military solution to the Ukraine crisis are were low because of the strength of Russia’s military.
He said it was clear Russia had violated “just about every commitment they made at the Minsk agreement” and that Russian aggression had only reinforced international unity.
“We agreed that sanctions on Russia need to remain fully in force until Russia complies,” he said. “We are making it clear again today that if Russia continues on its curent course… Russia’s isolation will only worsen, both politically and economically.”
Chancellor Merkel said that the “peaceful order of Europe” could not be maintained if Russia keeps violating Ukraine’s territory. She also sent out a warning to Russia saying that if diplomacy was not successful then they would have to “explore further options” to solve the conflict that has already left over 5,000 dead.
President Obama said: “The possibility of lethal defensive weapons is one of those options that is being examined.” But he said the possibility of supplying defensive weapons to Ukraine “is not based on the idea that Ukraine could defeat a Russian army that was determined. It is rather to see whether or not there are additional things we can do to help Ukraine bolster its defences in the face of separatist aggression.”
However, Chancellor Merkel has previously warned that sending western weapons to Kiev risks further escalating the conflict. Speaking to a security conference in Munich over the weekend, she said it was uncertain whether further negotiations would lead to a deal with President Putin but argued that all opportunities for a diplomatic solution should be pursued, saying she believed that “more weapons will not lead to the progress Ukraine needs”.
Chancellor Merkel’s meeting with President Obama comes amid increasing pressure from the Republican-controlled Congress, which wants defensive weapons sent to the Ukraine army.
EU foreign ministers also announced the approval of further sanctions against Russia earlier on Monday. The new measures will include putting visa bans and asset freezes on more Ukrainian separatists and Russians but the implementation of these sanctions will be delayed until after 16 February to give peace efforts more time, according to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
“The principle of these sanctions remains but the implementation will depend on results on the ground,” Fabius said. “We will see by Monday and see how the meeting in Minsk went,” he said.
Angela Merkel is due to travel to Minsk, Belarus on Wednesday alongside French President Francois Hollande to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to try and broker a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine after holding talks last week.
The sanctions were announced as Ukraine military spokesman Andrily Lysensko told journalists that “1,500 Russian soldiers and 300 pieces of military equipment” had crossed the Ukraine-Russian border over the weekend. Kiev also reported that nine Ukrainian troops have been killed in the past 24 hours and seven civilians also died with fighting particularly intense around the town of Debaltseve.
Earlier today Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Govorit Moskva radio that president Putin, who is currently in Egypt meeting Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, would not be spoken to in the language of ultimatums. “Nobody has ever talked to the president in the tone of an ultimatum – and could not do so even if they wanted to” he said.