U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Ukraine to show support for the embattled government as the Obama administration weighs sending arms to Kiev to help it fight Russian-backed separatists.
Amid a fast-moving flurry of international diplomacy, Kerry arrived in Kiev on Thursday bringing with him a modest amount of $16.4 million in new U.S. humanitarian aid, but also the potential for lethal weaponry that the country's leaders say they desperately need to defend themselves and turn back renewed rebel pushes in the east.
Officials with Kerry said he would discuss those needs with Ukrainian officials as well as new initiatives to resurrect a moribund ceasefire and resume a political dialogue to end the conflict.
Kerry is one of three top administration officials in Europe this week with a primary focus on Ukraine. Outgoing Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel is already in Belgium attending NATO meetings in Brussels, where Vice President Joe Biden is expected on Friday. Biden and Kerry will join forces in Germany at an international security conference in Munich, expected to be dominated by Ukraine and western tensions with Russia.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama's pick to run the Pentagon told Congress he is very inclined to support lethal weapons transfers to Ukraine.
The comments were the latest signal the White House may reverse its opposition to arming Ukraine to help its struggling military repel Moscow-backed insurgents — despite concerns that might escalate the conflict, turn it into an overt proxy war with Russia and set Washington at odds with its European partners.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a key ally in pressuring Russia to end its support for the rebels, has said there is no military solution to the crisis and that Germany will not supply weapons to Ukraine. Merkel and French President Francois Hollande were to head to Kyiv on Thursday and then to Moscow with a new peace initiative.
In Ukraine, President Petro Poroshenko said his government badly needs lethal aid to help repel the separatist attacks in the conflict that that has left 5,300 people dead. And, he said he was convinced it would be coming.
Poroshenko will meet Kerry on Thursday, and then later in the week with Biden and Merkel when all four will be at an international security conference in Munich. In what is likely to be a tense meeting, Kerry also plans to see Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the Munich conference.
Despite the presence on the continent of the trio of top Obama national security aides, the White House and State Department both said any announcement of a change in policy would not likely happen this week.
While in Europe, Biden and Kerry will also discuss with Poroshenko and others increased financial assistance to Ukraine as well as significantly increasing sanctions on Russia if does not change course.