U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets in Kyiv Thursday with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who is making a fresh appeal for Western weapons to help fight pro Russian rebels.
The Obama administration has so far provided only non-lethal aid to Ukraine's military, but U.S. officials have recently said they are willing to consider supplying weapons to help bring a quicker end to the conflict.
Ahead of his meeting with Kerry, President 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.
A key Obama administration nominee voiced tentative support Wednesday for supplying lethal aid to Ukraine in its battle against pro-Russian separatists.
Ashton Carter, nominee for defense secretary, made the comment at his Senate confirmation hearing after Republican Senator John McCain asked him if he thought the United States should supply Kyiv with weapons to fight the rebels in eastern Ukraine. The hearing took place before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I think we need to support the Ukrainians in defending themselves. I am inclined in the direction of providing them with arms, including, to get to your question, lethal arms,” said Carter.
So far, the United States has provided Kyiv with only non-lethal assistance, a policy currently under review.
Earlier Wednesday, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters in Paris that France had no intention of providing "lethal weapons" to Ukraine "at this stage."
Map of Ukraine showing Donetsk, Luhansk, and Debaltseve
On Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated her comments from the previous day that Germany will not deliver "lethal weapons" to Ukraine and will focus instead on a "diplomatic solution." Merkel will travel to Washington to meet Monday with Obama.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden joins the German chancellor late this week for talks with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich. Officials say those talks are expected to focus on boosting financial aid to Kyiv and tightening economic sanctions against Moscow for its support of the rebellion.
EU calls for truce
Meanwhile, the European Union's foreign policy chief has called for an immediate truce. Federica Mogherini said in a statement that the "fighting, provoked by the continued separatist offensive ... is causing great human suffering and undermines all efforts aimed at a political solution."
"The shelling of civilians, wherever it happens, is a grave violation of international humanitarian law. Artillery should immediately be withdrawn from residential areas," she continued.
Mogherini called for the establishment of a "local temporary truce for a minimum of three days, taking immediate effect."
Fighting has raged in the self-declared separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, especially around the Ukrainian-controlled town of Debaltseve, since the rebels launched a new offensive late last month and peace talks in Belarus between the two sides collapsed Saturday.
Latest casualty count
The United Nations reported Tuesday 224 civilians were killed and 545 wounded in eastern Ukraine in the three weeks leading up to February 1. It said the civilian death toll has been high in areas controlled by the government and those controlled by the separatists.
United Nations estimates place the death toll in eastern Ukraine at more than 5,358 people, with another 12,235 wounded since mid-April of last year.
Fighting has raged in and around the separatist-controlled areas in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions, especially around the Ukrainian-controlled town of Debaltseve, since the rebels launched a new offensive late last month and peace talks in Belarus between the two sides collapsed Saturday.
Shelling near a hospital in the mostly rebel-controlled city of Donetsk on Wednesday killed at least four people.
Some information for this report provided by Reuters.