During a press conference on Monday, President Obama said that he would consider sending lethal aid to Ukrainian forces, should further diplomatic sanctions fail. The president said that lethal aid is one of the options currently being examined by his security team, and that his decision will depend on the outcome of the peace talks in Minsk later this week.
"The possibility of lethal defensive weapons is one of those options that is being examined," Obama said. "But I have not made a decision about that yet."
At the same time, he underscored that he prefers to solve the conflict diplomatically. Chancellor Merkel reiterrated her position that sending arms will not solve the crisis.
President Obama stressed that no matter their differing tactical opinions, the United States and Europe represent a strong, unified front.
"That's not going to change," he added.
Both President Obama and Chancellor Merkel emphasized the importance of maintaining territorial integrity, and that the crisis in the Ukraine threatens the stability of Europe at large.
"For somebody who comes from Europe, I can only say, if we give up this principle of territorial integrity, we will not be able to maintain the peaceful order of Europe," Merkel said.
The two leaders also reaffirmed their intent to maintain strong economic sanctions against Russia, with the potential for harsher ones in the future.
"We agreed that sanctions on Russia need to remain fully in force until Russia complies fully with its obligations," Obama said. "If Russia continues in its own course…Russian isolation will only worsen both politically and economically."
They also said they would continue to work with the European Union and International Monetary Fund to provide financial support to the Ukrainian government.
Last week senators from both parties in Congress urged President Obama to start supplying the Ukrainian army with lethal assistance, threatening otherwise to pass a bill that would require the administration to do so. Some went as far, as blaming the US for Kiev government’s use of cluster bomb in the country’s east.
“I think that if we had provided them with the weapons they need, they wouldn’t have felt they had to use cluster bombs. So, it’s partially our fault,” Senator John McCain, one of the most vocal supporters of arming Ukrainians, told Sputnik.
Other high ranking US officials like Secretary of State John Kerry and outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have also expressed their support to the “lethal aide” idea. But for the time being, President Obama will hold off on making a decision until the end of peace negotiations in Minsk later this week.
Merkel has repeatedly insisted that she categorically opposes to sending arms. Among Chancellor Merkel’s concerns with arming Ukraine is a belief shared by many in Europe that doing so would only increase violence in the region, causing both sides to escalate. Merkel also believes that no amount of Western aid could give Ukraine an equal footing with the Russian military, who the West continues to insist is backing the rebels, a charge that Russia categorically denies.
“It is my firm belief that this conflict cannot be solved militarily,” Merkel said in Budapest last week, insisting that only negotiations may bring peace to the war-torn country.
Further diplomatic solutions will be attempted at a summit in Minsk on Wednesday, where Merkel, French President Hollande, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko will discuss a possible peace deal. Ahead of this summit, President Putin has presented a plan which might become a blueprint for a ceasefire agreement. Putin suggests that Ukrainian rebels be treated as equals in negotiations, that attacks on rebel-held territory stop, that Donbass territories should stay formally in Ukraine with wide autonomy and continue to be given funding from the government in Kiev.
Some Western leaders, desperate for calm, have already accepted this plan as a starting point for negotiations.
“These people have been fighting a war against each other. It would be hard for them to live together,” President Francois Hollande said on French television, potentially indicating support for a more autonomous, Novorossia government.
Last week, Merkel and Hollande presented their own plan to Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, in which they call for the creation of a demilitarized zone in the country’s east.
If the Minsk summit fails, European Union leaders will meet on Thursday to discuss stronger economic sanctions against Russia.