KIEV, Ukraine — Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in snowbound Kiev Thursday amid calls for Washington to begin arming Ukraine in its fight against pro-Russian separatists in the east.
Kerry announced $16.4 million in aid to help Ukrainians affected by the escalating violence in the east as the rebels advance. More than 5,000 people have already died in the conflict.
“The funding will be used to support the Ukrainian government's response to the crisis caused by Russia's aggressive actions,” the State Department said in a statement.
NATO says Russia has sent weapons, funds and troops on the ground to assist the rebel advance. Moscow denies involvement in fighting for territory the Kremlin now calls "New Russia".
Washington has given its clearest signal yet that it is considering providing weapons to Ukraine. President Barack Obama's pick for defense secretary, Ashton Carter, told a Senate committee he would "very much incline" toward supplying “lethal arms” to Ukraine.
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko called unambiguously for NATO arms in an interview with a German newspaper.
"The escalation of the conflict that's happening today, the increasing number of civilian casualties... should move the alliance to provide Ukraine with more support," Poroshenko told Die Welt. "(That) includes, among other things, delivering modern weapons for protection and for resisting the aggressor."
But some NATO members, including Italy, are opposed.
- Abigail Williams and Alastair Jamieson
Reuters contributed to this report.