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Washington Week: Focus on Ukraine Crisis

  • Michael Bowman

The coming week will see continued focus on the crisis in Ukraine, beginning with President Barack Obama hosting German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House later Monday. It remains to be seen whether a renewed international push for peace in Ukraine will bear fruit, and whether the United States will send lethal military assistance to Kyiv.

As Ukrainian forces battle pro-Russian rebels, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany spoke by telephone to discuss a Franco-German plan to revive a shattered peace effort. The leaders are expected to meet in Minsk, Belarus Wednesday in hopes of restoring last year’s cease-fire that never fully took hold and broke down entirely in recent weeks.

At a security conference in Munich, Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States and its allies are united in backing Ukraine.

“We will stand together in support of Ukraine and in defense of the common understanding that international borders must not, cannot, be changed by force in Europe or anywhere else,” said Kerry.

Other officials stressed the need for dialogue. Germany’s foreign minister said, “permanent security in Europe can only come with Russia, not against Russia,” while France’s foreign minister said, “nobody wants to get trapped in a raging war that is in no one’s interest.”

Kerry denied any split between the United States and its major allies on Ukraine.

“I keep hearing people trying to create one (a division)," he said. "We are united, we are working closely together. We all agree the challenge will not end through military force. We are united in diplomacy. But the longer it takes, the more the off-ramps (solutions) are avoided, the more we will be forced to raise the costs on Russia and its proxies.”

The time has come to back up such words with concrete actions, according to Republican U.S. Senator John McCain, who says Russian President Vladimir Putin “wants to dominate Ukraine.”

“Some say that Ukraine cannot defeat Russia militarily," said McCain. "That is the wrong question. The right question is, if we help Ukrainians increase the military cost to the Russian forces that have invaded their country - how long can Putin sustain a war that he tells his people is not happening? That is why we must provide defensive arms to Ukraine.”

So far, the Obama administration has neither committed to nor ruled out lethal military assistance to Ukraine, an option that to date has public backing only in Washington and Kyiv.

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