Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk.
Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rubin said, however, that's it's vital to get back to the Minsk peace plan’s cease-fire, buffer zone and withdrawal of “foreign mercenaries.”
“We have an agreement with the Russian Federation that has largely been ignored," he said. The Minsk plan includes "a series of steps that really would very quickly move to reduce the level of tensions, end the violence and create the way forward for a compromise that everyone can accept.”
Focusing on the Minsk cease-fire without helping arm Ukrainian government forces will never end the violence, said Republican Congressman Steve Stockman of Texas.
“I believe that the State Department and the president are mistaken in their viewpoint, in thinking that silence is better," he said. "And it is a mistake to the people of Ukraine who are asking for freedom. And our president is not paying attention.”
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he is open to finding an end to the conflict. But that will most likely require a different agreement, because Minsk is not working, said Keith Darden, an associate professor in the International School of Service at American University in Washington.
“The Ukrainian government is violating Minsk. The Russian government is violating Minsk. The separatists have been violating Minsk from the beginning," Darden said. "If we just cling to that piece of paper without ... continuing to try to work out a diplomatic settlement, I think we are going to be in trouble.”
However, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who met with his Ukrainian counterpart, said the Minsk agreement remains the best way to prevent a return to fighting.
“With the Minsk agreement, we hoped to have left behind that situation, and it is important that we do not fall back into it," Steinmeier said. "We have to work toward ensuring that the Minsk agreements are not only respected, but also realized step by step."
That, he said, means reaching agreement on a prisoner exchange and demilitarizing the Ukrainian-Russian border.