The West should not rule out a military option to support Ukraine’s battle against separatist rebels who, it is widely believed, are being supported by Russia, Nato’s top military commander says.
US Air Force General Philip Breedlove told reporters at the Munich Security conference that “we should not preclude out of hand the possibility of the military option”.
A host of world leaders are at the conference where the security situation in Ukraine has been under discussion.
General Breedlove said he was referring to the provision of weapons and capabilities to the Ukrainian military. “There is no conversation about boots on the ground,” he added.
If we don’t manage to find not just a compromise but a lasting peace agreement, we know perfectly well what the scenario will be… It’s called war. Francois Hollande
There has been growing pressure on the US to provide lethal weaponry to the Ukrainian military – which has struggled against allegedly Russian-armed separatists.
This week the US has begun openly hinting that it could arm the Ukrainian military, but this has exposed a rift between the US and their European counterparts.
French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday (pictured, below) to discuss a diplomatic solution to the crisis. After five hours of discussions, Chancellor Merkel said it was “uncertain” if the talks would succeed.
“But it is in my view and the French president’s view definitely worth trying,” she said on Saturday.
Chancellor Merkel added that sending weapons to the Ukrainian military would not bring about a solution.
“I understand the debate but I believe that more weapons will not lead to the progress Ukraine needs. I really doubt that,” she said.
President Hollande said the talks with President Putin are “one of the last chances” to end fighting in eastern Ukraine.
He said: “If we don’t manage to find not just a compromise but a lasting peace agreement, we know perfectly well what the scenario will be. It has a name, It’s called war.”
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the crisis would not be resolved without military support from the country’s allies.
“The Ukrainian question will remain unsolved as long as… the people and politicians in Europe and the whole world don’t provide solid practical support for Ukrainians’ independence – politically, economically but also militarily,” he said.
“We are an independent nation and we have a right to defend our people,” he added. “Over the course of the offensive we have proved to be responsible and we will not use the defensive equipment for attack.”
Speaking on Saturday afternoon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said growing calls to “pump Ukraine full of lethal weapons” would make matters worse.
“This position will only exacerbate the tragedy of Ukraine,” Mr Lavrov said.
“We believe that there are good grounds for optimism, to issue recommendations for conflict resolution,” he added.
The split between US and European thinking on how to tackle the Ukrainian crisis led Germany’s deputy parliamentary leader Claudia Roth to chastise some US officials for “inappropriate messages” at the Munich conference.
“It really is an impertinence to accuse Merkel, to accuse us, not be interested and not to have compassion with the people of Ukraine,” she said.
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“I do hope that there will be more steps towards a ceasefire, to end a horrible, aggressive policy which the people of Ukraine pay for with their lives.”
The talks with president Putin will continue in a four-way telephone conversation on Sunday, also including Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Fighting continued in Ukraine while the talks were ongoing. The eastern Ukrainian separatists, under the banner The People’s Republic of Donetsk, said on Saturday that 39 shells had fallen on Donetsk in the past 24 hours, killing six people.
The Ukrainian military said that separatist rebels had stepped up shelling of the conflict’s front lines and appeared to be massing new forces for an assault on the key rail hub of Debaltseve.
Five Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and 26 wounded in fighting in the past 24 hours, spokesman Volodymyr Polyovy told a briefing.