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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

US Defense Officials to Meet on Ukraine Following New Fighting

by VOA News June 05, 2015

Top U.S. defense officials and diplomats are gathering Friday in Stuttgart, Germany, to discuss how to counter Russian military actions in Ukraine and address concerns among allies about Moscow's aggression, following an upsurge of fighting between the Ukrainian military and Russia-backed rebels.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter will meet with generals and ambassadors based in Europe at the headquarters of U.S. European Command. He is to review the effectiveness of current European Union and U.S. economic sanctions and NATO's strategy in deterring further Russian actions in Ukraine.

'This meeting is intended to inform the secretary's thinking as he heads into his first NATO ministerial [meeting] in late June,' said Pentagon spokesman Brent Colburn. 'One of the areas of focus will be Russia's actions over the past 18 months, including their operations in Ukraine.'

Poroshenko cites 'colossal threat'

On Thursday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warned lawmakers to prepare to defend against 'a possible full-scale invasion' by Russia, after a surge in fighting in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

Poroshenko cited a 'colossal threat' of large-scale fighting. He said 9,000 Russian troops already are inside eastern Ukraine.

Fighting between rebels and government forces in the region escalated this week, killing at least 18 people and prompting the U.N. Security Council to hold an emergency meeting Friday.

Responding to the new violence, the White House Thursday said President Barack Obama plans to urge EU leaders at an upcoming summit in Germany to maintain sanctions against Moscow for its 'aggression in eastern Ukraine.'

White House spokesman Josh Earnest acknowledged Thursday that economic pressure has not yet resulted in Russian President Vladimir Putin changing his 'strategic calculus inside Ukraine.'

EU member countries vote later this year on whether to extend their sanctions, and U.S. National Security spokesman Ben Rhodes said continuing them is 'the right course ... against more aggressive Russian action.' He also said they need more time to work.

Russian denial of involvement

The Kremlin insists it plays no direct role in the rebellion and has repeatedly denied supporting rebels with arms and fighters.

A Kremlin spokesman accused Ukraine Thursday of provoking new fighting to increase pressure on the European Union ahead of the weekend summit to extend the sanctions.

For their part, European monitors reported large movements of heavy weapons moving toward contact lines in rebel-controlled areas, in the hours before Wednesday's fighting erupted at the towns of Maryinka and Krasnohorivka.

A truce signed by Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany in February required both sides to withdraw heavy weapons from the line of contact. But international observers say those provisions have been routinely violated.

More than 6,400 people have been killed since April 2014, when separatists launched the rebellion against Kyiv in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

Analysts see danger in new fighing

"Over the past week or two we've seen a great increase in [cease-fire] violations by the Russians and their agents in eastern Ukraine across the cease-fire line," said John Herbst of the Washington-based Atlantic Council in an interview with VOA's Jeffrey Young.

"The Kremlin has put in, over the past couple of months, a substantial increase in advanced weaponry. So, they can move. They can thrust more deeply into Ukraine at any moment," he said.

Russia analyst Keir Giles, who is with Chatham House in London, said Ukraine's president is right to be concerned about the recent events.

"President Poroshenko knows perfectly well that if he cries 'wolf' too often, people will stop paying attention. You have to assume that there is some genuine concern behind what seems to be a warning of imminent attack," Giles said.

Giles said that the most recent flare-up in eastern Ukraine may not necessarily be the prelude to a Russian plan to create a "land bridge" connecting it to Crimea.

"There is always a possibility. However, remember that throughout the duration of this conflict, Russia has been able to achieve many of its objectives without actually taking more Ukrainian territory," Giles said. "There are a number of other tools which Russia is using to achieve what it wants."

Herbst, a vocal proponent of providing lethal weapons to Ukraine to defend itself, said that the West's response to the Ukraine crisis has been inadequate.

'We should be providing Ukraine with defensive weapons so they can defend their own territory. We should be putting much more, in the way of troops and military hardware into the Baltic States and Poland, and perhaps Romania, because Mr. Putin has designs on the eastern members of NATO," said Herbst.

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