The German defense minister has warned that arming Ukrainian soldiers to help them fight pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine would only inflame the crisis in the country. “Are we sure that we would be improving the situation for the people in Ukraine by delivering weapons?” Ursula von der Leyen asked during the 51st Munich Security Conference in the German city on Friday.
The remarks from von der Leyen underlined an emerging rift between Europe and the United States about how to tackle the conflict.
Under pressure from some members of the Congress, US President Barack Obama is reviewing whether to provide the Ukrainian government with lethal weapons to confront the pro-Russians.
Elsewhere in her remarks, Von der Leyen reiterated the view in most of the European capitals, including Berlin, Paris and London, that there can be no military solution to the West’s dispute with Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.
She made the comments as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande started talks in the Russian capital city of Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a bid to find a way to end the deadly conflict.
On Thursday, Merkel and Hollande held talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Ukraine’s capital Kiev for a peaceful solution to the surging conflict in the country.
Relations between Russia and the West have been extremely tense in recent months. The Ukrainian government and its Western allies accuse the Kremlin of supporting pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine. Russia denies the claims.
More than 5,300 people have died in the conflict in Ukraine’s eastern regions, mainly Donetsk and Luhansk, the UN says. The fighting, which began in mid-April 2014 and intensified in May, has also displaced 1.5 million people.
Senator John McCain from USA, the Arizona Republican who has argued forcefully for weapons deliveries to Ukraine, summed up his reaction to Ms. Merkel’s speech with one word: “Foolishness.” Mr. McCain said that unless the West beefed up its support to Ukraine, Mr. Putin could next seize the port of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine with a view to building a land bridge from Russia proper to Crimea, which the Kremlin annexed last March. “I can assure you that he will not stop until he has to pay a much higher price,” Mr. McCain said.