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Kerry: US Won't 'Close Eyes' to Russian Aggression in Ukraine

by VOA News February 05, 2015

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States, while seeking a diplomatic solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, would not 'close our eyes' to Russian tanks and fighters crossing the border.

Kerry said he and Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko discussed issues including Russia's continued aggression during a meeting Thursday.

"We talked about the largest threat that Ukraine faces today, and that is Russia's continued aggression in the east. There's no other way to call it," Kerry told reporters.

'We can't close our eyes to tanks coming across the border' or to 'Russian fighters coming across the border,' Kerry said.

The top U.S. diplomat said no one is 'seeking a conflict with Russia' and that he was hopeful that Russia would take advantage of broad-based, uniform acceptance of the fact that there can be a diplomatic resolution.

'Choice is diplomacy'

In a joint news conference after talks in Kyiv with Poroshenko, Kerry urged Russia to show its commitment to a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine by ceasing its military support for the separatists and bringing them to the negotiation table.

'Our choice is diplomacy,' Kerry said, adding a review is underway regarding a possible U.S. decision to supply Ukraine with lethal military aid.

Calling it a 'very critical moment in our history,' Poroshenko said Ukraine appreciates U.S. support and is grateful for the 'consistent engagement' of the U.S. State Department, which has become more important because of Russia's actions.

The United States and its allies accuse Russia of supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine with weapons and manpower, a charge Moscow denies.

Kerry also met with Ukraine's prime minister later Thursday. Speaking at a separate news conference with Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Kerry said that it was up to Russian President Vladimir Putin to 'make the choices that could end this war.'

Before Kerry's arrival, a senior State Department official announced the United States is providing Kyiv with an additional $16.4 million in aid to help civilians affected by the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

'New solution'

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande said Thursday he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Ukraine to present a 'new solution to the conflict based on the territorial integrity of Ukraine.'

Hollande said he and Merkel would discuss the plan with Poroshenko before heading to Moscow for talks with Russian leaders.

No details of the peace initiative were immediately available.

Kerry, who does not plan to go to Moscow, said he has not yet thoroughly reviewed the Frenco-German proposal, but said it shows the U.S. and its international partners stand united in urging Russia to end its role in the conflict.

He said he had a chance to 'coordinate diplomacy' with Hollande and Merkel and supports their efforts in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's top foreign policy adviser called the meeting planned for Friday between the Russian, French and German leaders a 'positive step' and said Putin is ready to hold 'constructive' talks.

Yury Ushakov said he hoped the plan put forward by Hollande and Merkel would take into account the 'numerous proposals' put forward earlier by Putin.

A Western diplomat said a new Russian proposal for Ukraine, presented by Moscow to France and Germany, 'is not a peace plan. It is a roadmap to creating a new Transnistria or Abkhazia in Ukraine. It is a cynical effort to get out of all the commitments made in Minsk.'

US considers supplying arms

The Franco-German bid appeared designed to head off U.S. considerations of giving Ukraine heavy weapons, something Europeans oppose out of fears of sparking an arms race.

Ahead of his meeting with Kerry, Poroshenko told Germany's Die Welt newspaper the recent escalation of the conflict should move NATO to provide Ukraine with more support, including modern weapons.

'We still need a lot of military, technical, and specialist help to improve the fighting strength of the Ukrainian army in its resistance of Russian aggression,' Poroshenko said in the interview.

The diplomatic push comes as fighting raged in the separatist-controlled, Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, near the Russian border. The latest fighting centered on the Ukrainian-controlled town of Debaltseve

Meanwhile, in Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance is set Thursday to strengthen its defenses near Russia's borders in response to Moscow's 'aggressive actions' in Ukraine.

Stoltenberg said defense ministers meeting in the Belgian capital plan to boost the size of the NATO response force from 13,000 to 30,000. They will also likely approve the establishment of a new rapid-response force of about 5,000 troops, he said.

Washington has provided Ukraine with over $355 million in assistance over the past year, but has so far been reluctant to provide weapons, fearing getting involved in another protracted overseas conflict.

The United Nations said nearly 5,400 people have been killed and more than 12,000 others wounded since separatists launched their rebellion in April.

In Kyiv, a Ukrainian military spokesman said Thursday five soldiers had been killed and 29 wounded in the past 24 hours. Troops had fended off two attempts to storm Debaltseve, the military said.

Pam Dockins in Kyiv contributed to this report. Some material for this report came from Reuters and AP.



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