As heads of state gathered this week to discuss the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia, signs of increased military posturing emerged from Washington and Europe, as the White House considered arming Ukrainian troops against separatist rebels and NATO signaled that it would beef up its presence on the border to aid Ukraine.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Ukraine this week to join German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, who are planning to introduce an initiative that they say would end the fighting and would be "based upon the full territorial integrity of Ukraine," according to Hollande. Merkel and Hollande are set to travel to Russia next week to present the plan to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Speaking from a news conference in Kiev, Kerry called on Russia to agree to a cease-fire, pull back troops and weapons from Ukraine, and close their neighboring borders.
The Russian government has repeatedly denied that it has been sending military personnel and equipment into Ukraine. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN that Kerry's speech "just shows the unwillingness and inability of the United States to participate in settlement of the Ukrainian crisis."
"As for Russian tanks, allegedly crossing Russian-Ukrainian border, we've commented on this before—there are no Russian tanks or army in Ukraine, such accusations are not true," he added.
Despite Kerry's proclaimed support for an end to the conflict, the U.S. sent several recent signals that it would be willing to arm Ukraine to help its forces fend off separatists and, according to the New York Times, "build pressure on Moscow to seek a political settlement." President Barack Obama's nominee for Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, told the Senate on Thursday that he would "very much incline" toward sending missiles, battlefield radars, drones, and other weapons to Ukraine.
Similarly, NATO representative Adam Thompson told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the alliance may continue "strengthening its military posture in response in particular to the challenge that Russia's behavior represents."
NATO ministers also recently completed plans to increase its presence throughout Eastern Europe, opening command centers in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—a notable change for the alliance, the Wall Street Journal reports.
"NATO in Western Europe is not news," Douglas Lute, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, told WSJ. "NATO in Eastern Europe is news."
Moscow has previously called NATO the top military threat against the beleaguered nation, whose economy is rapidly deteriorating under strict Western sanctions and the global drop in oil prices. On Thursday, the government said it would consider any U.S. arms sent to Ukraine to be a military threat.