The United States is taking a fresh look at whether to provide weapons to Kiev in its fight against Russian-backed separatists, senior administration officials said on Monday, although they emphasized that no decision had been made.
"It's getting a fresh look," a senior administration official said of news reports that the White House was considering sending defensive weapons to Ukrainian forces. "Where things will end up, we don’t know."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Kiev on Thursday for talks with Ukraine's government. NATO defense ministers will also discuss Ukraine during a meeting this week.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States was constantly reviewing its policy toward Ukraine and was particularly concerned with the increase in attacks by separatists in eastern Ukraine over the past few days.
Separatists pounded positions of Ukrainian government troops holding a strategic rail town on Monday as both sides mobilized more forces for combat. Five more Ukrainian soldiers were killed in clashes with rebels at the weekend and 15 civilians were killed by a surge in violence after new peace efforts collapsed on Saturday.
Psaki said while the United States and Western allies were focused on pursuing a diplomatic solution to end the fighting, the administration was constantly reviewing how to help Ukraine.
"We haven't taken options on or off the table," she said. "It is an ongoing discussions and obviously we take into account events on the ground."
Talks between Ukraine, Russia and rebel officials in Minsk had raised hopes of a ceasefire. The West says the rebels are armed by Russia and supported by several thousands Russian troops, a claim that Moscow denies. Both the EU and United States have imposed economic sanctions against Russia.
"I don’t think anybody wants to get into a proxy war with Russia. And that is not the objective," Psaki said, "Our objective here is to change the behavior of Russia. That’s the reason that we have put the sanctions in place."
"No decisions have been made," she added. "We, of course, preserve the right to consider a range of options."
Senior administration officials said it was unlikely that a decision on ramping up support for Ukraine would be made before Kerry's visit to Kiev on Thursday.
U.S. President Barack Obama hosts Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House on Monday, in part to discuss the situation in Ukraine.