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US Envoy: Eastern Ukraine, Crimea Under 'Reign of Terror'

Russia-backed rebels perform weapons maintenance on the outskirts of Debaltseve, Ukraine, March 9, 2015
Russia-backed rebels perform weapons maintenance on the outskirts of Debaltseve, Ukraine, March 9, 2015

A top U.S. diplomat for Europe says citizens in large parts of war-torn eastern Ukraine and Crimea are living under "a reign of terror" spawned by a new influx of Russian military hardware.

Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, speaking Tuesday, told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Russian tanks, armored vehicles and Russian artillery have poured across the border in recent days.

"Russia and its separatist puppets have unleashed unspeakable violence and pillage," she said. "This is a manufactured conflict controlled by the Kremlin, fueled by Russian tanks and heavy weapons and financed at Russian taxpayers' expense."

Nuland also told the panel the Obama administration has not yet decided whether to supply the Kyiv government with defensive weaponry in its fight against Moscow-backed separatists near the Russian border. She said talks on such aid are ongoing as administration officials monitor a cease-fire deal reached February 15.

In a related development, Germany's ambassador to the United States Peter Wittig said Monday that President Barack Obama has decided not to supply lethal weapons to Kyiv at this time, after recent talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Wittig told the Associated Press that any such move needs to be weighed carefully against the possibility that supplying such weaponry to Ukraine - a non-NATO country - could trigger a military escalation by Russia. "We have to be fully prepared, I mean the West, to go into that military logic [possibility] over eastern Ukraine."

Opponents of such aid also have argued that no amount of Western weaponry in Ukraine would stop a concerted military push by a Russian military, which analysts say is at least four times larger than Ukraine's, with twice as many tanks and more than six times as many combat aircraft.

Elsewhere Monday, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko said rebels had withdrawn a "significant" amount of heavy weaponry from the front lines in the east, as called for in the internationally brokered truce. He also said his government had pulled back the "lion's share" of its weaponry as well.

But Poroshenko, in televised comments, did not discuss the buildup of Russian military hardware described by Nuland and reported separately in recent days by European monitors and Western analysts.

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