U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says President Barack Obama will evaluate his options on dealing with events in eastern Ukraine “in the next few days” -- including possible further sanctions against Russia and the option of arming Ukrainian troops to fight Russian-backed separatists.
Speaking after talks in London on February 21 with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Kerry said U.S. officials have had “serious discussions” with European allies and additional steps will be taken in response to violations of a cease-fire deal signed in Minsk last week.
Kerry said Russia had engaged in “an absolutely brazen and cynical process” during the past days, as separatists seized the strategic eastern Ukrainian town of Debaltseve despite the cease-fire deal.
Kerry said: "We are talking about additional sanctions, additional efforts."
"We are not going to play this game," Kerry continued. "We are not going to sit there and be part of this kind of extraordinarily craven behavior at the expense of the sovereignty and integrity of a nation."
Hammond also criticized Russia's "breaches" of a cease-fire agreement signed in Minsk last week.
Moscow continues to deny that it is arming rebels and sending Russia soldiers into Ukrainian territory, despite growing evidence that it is doing so.
Amid rising tensions with the West over Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on February 20 that "no-one should have the illusion that they can gain military superiority over Russia, put any kind of pressure on it."
Putin said Russia’s military would always have an "adequate response."
Ukraine’s government said on February 21 that pro-Russian separatists are building up forces and weapons in southeastern Ukraine near the coast of the Sea of Azov.
Ukraine’s military said government forces were bracing for the possibility of a Russian-backed attack on the port city of Mariupol.
Those accusations come a day after Kyiv accused Russia of sending more tanks, troops, and heavy artillery toward the rebel-held town of Novoazovsk just to the east of government-controlled Mariupol.
Ukrainian officials say that if the Russian-backed separatists attack Mariupol in the days ahead, it will mark the end of the European-brokered cease-fire deal.
But there were reports that separatists and government forces were exchanging prisoners with each other in eastern Ukraine as required by the new cease-fire deal.
In Washington, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators has urged the Obama administration to tighten sanctions against Russia and provide defensive military aid to Ukraine.
The senators told Kerry in a letter that Putin wants to seize more Ukrainian territory and that it was time to start supplying weapons to Ukrainian government froces.
The lawmakers said: "We can only conclude that in the absence of greater Western support for Ukrainian forces, a Russian-imposed military outcome will continue to unfold in Ukraine."
Among those signing the letter were top Democrat Dick Durbin and the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Republican Chairman John McCain.
In an interview with the German daily Bild, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin reiterated that his country needs modern weapons to be able to defend itself.
Klimkin said better weaponry "would help save a lot of lives of our soldiers and prevent further attacks by terrorists.:
He said Ukraine needs "weapons for peace rather than for war.”
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, Interfax, TASS, and Bild