Pressure grows on the US to send weapons to the Ukrainian military following recent defeats to separatist rebels who it is widely believed are being armed by Russia.
A report released by eight former senior US and Nato officials called on Monday for weapons to be sent to the Ukrainian military, and the New York Times reported senior figures supporting such actions.
The report was compiled by senior officials including former top Nato military commander, James Stavridis, and Michele Flournoy, a former senior Pentagon official and the leading candidate to serve as US defence secretary if Hillary Clinton is elected president.
Assisting Ukraine to deter attack and defend itself is not inconsistent with the search for a peaceful, political solution – it is essential to achieving it. Atlantic Council report
It advised providing the Ukrainian military with $1bn of military assistance every year for the next three years including “lethal assistance” – a move that would have echoes of cold war proxy wars.
Russia has been accused of sending weapons and soldiers into east Ukraine to support a separatist rebellion against Kiev.
Amnesty International has warned that both the Ukrainian military and the separatists are violating the laws of war by attacking and launching attacks from heavily populated areas.
Last year the US pledged $120m of non-lethal assistance – such as medical support equipment and body armour – but has not provided lethal assistance.
The report recommends including lethal weaponry – in particular giving the Ukrainian military light anti-armour missiles.
“Ukrainian light anti-armour capabilities are severely lacking at a time when the Russians have moved large numbers of tanks and armoured personnel carriers into the Donbass,” the report said.
The report added: “Assisting Ukraine to deter attack and defend itself is not inconsistent with the search for a peaceful, political solution – it is essential to achieving it.”
At the same time, the New York Times reported that General Philip Breedlove, Nato’s military commander, supports providing defensive weapons and equipment to Kiev, citing “American officials”.
Barack Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice has resisted proposals to provide lethal assistance, but the New York Times reported that she is now “prepared to consider the issue”.
Nato and the US argue that a diplomatic solution is the only way out of the current crisis in eastern Ukraine. The international community has imposed economic sanctions on Russia which, according to the aforementioned report, are “having an impact on the Russian economy and appear to have taken the Russian leadership by surprise”.
In the meantime, the report says, “Ukraine finds itself in a perilous state” and if the US and Nato do not act “more robustly” then they can expect “further Russian incursions”.
On Monday Nato Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow said “Russia is paying the price for its aggression – as it must. The sanctions are biting, capital flight is increasing, and Russians’ standard of living is declining. But we cannot expect an immediate turnaround.”
However, the crisis in Ukraine continues unabated. Violence recently flared in eastern Ukraine, ending a five month ceasefire.
In the past 24 hours five members of the Ukrainian military have been killed more than 100 attacks by separatists, the Ukrainian military said. Fifteen civilians were reported killed over the weekend.
Separatist rebels from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic have announced plans to call up more fighters, increasing its forces to 100,000. The Ukrainian military is also attempting to mobilize another 50,000.
Rebels are targeting Debaltseve, a strategic rail hub to the northeast of Donetsk, in an attempt to dislodge government forces there. The outskirts of Yenakieve and Vuhlegirsk, both on the main highway to Debaltseve, were under heavy artillery fire as rebel multiple rocket launchers and artillery pummelled the positions of Ukrainian troops in the area (see video from Yenakieve, above).