KIEV (AFP) -US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday flew into Kiev where Ukraine’s pro-Western leaders hope Washington will send in weapons for their battle against pro-Russian separatists.
His visit comes as international pressure grows for an immediate halt to surging violence, with 19 civilians and troops killed in the latest rebel push into government-held territory in eastern Ukraine.
In Brussels, NATO was set to agree a major boost to the alliance’s defences near its Russian borders, including six command centres and a quick-reaction spearhead force of 5,000 troops in response to the Ukraine conflict.
Despite growing talk of Washington changing tack and arming Ukrainian forces, a State Department official said only that Kerry was to unveil US$16 million (14 million euros) in fresh US humanitarian aid, particularly to help the displaced.
Kerry will meet President Petro Poroshenko as well as Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, ahead of a security conference in Munich on Friday during which he will sit down with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
“We have a Russian government that is talking the talk of ceasefire, talking the talk of peace, even as it fuels this conflict,” a senior State Department official said. Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Moscow of sending thousands of regular army troops and weapons to support the rebels who launched an uprising against Kiev in April.
And while Moscow has repeatedly denied the allegations, the separatists are equipped with the advanced weaponry of a regular army.
The fighting has claimed more than 5,358 lives since April, including some 220 in just the past three weeks, according to the United Nations. “So the question is if the governments of Ukraine, of the United States, of Europe are appealing for a new sit-down, will the Kremlin spurn that? Or will they sit down and will they push their proxies to do the same?” the US official said.
As the fighting has intensified, Washington has been reviewing its position to see if it should bow to a growing clamour to send heavy weapons to Kiev.
“We continue to evaluate as the situation on the ground changes the security needs of the Ukrainians… But no decisions have been made,” the US official said.