US mulls arming Ukraine in struggle

With Russian-backed separatists pressing their attacks in Ukraine, NATO’s military commander, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, now supports providing defensive weapons and equipment to Kiev’s beleaguered forces, and an array of administration and military officials appear to be edging toward that position, American officials said Sunday.

President Obama has made no decisions on providing such lethal assistance. But after a series of striking reversals that Ukraine’s forces have suffered in recent weeks, the Obama administration is taking a fresh look at the question of military aid.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who plans to visit Kiev on Thursday, is open to new discussions about providing lethal assistance, as is Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, officials said. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who is leaving his post soon, backs sending defensive weapons to the Ukrainian forces.

In recent months, Susan E. Rice, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, has resisted proposals to provide lethal assistance, several officials said. But one official who is familiar with her views insisted that Ms. Rice was now prepared to reconsider the issue.

Fearing that the provision of defensive weapons might tempt President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to raise the stakes, the White House has limited American aid to “non-lethal” items, including body armor, night-vision goggles, first aid kits and engineering equipment.

But the failure of economic sanctions to dissuade Russia from sending heavy weapons and military personnel to eastern Ukraine is pushing the issue of defensive weapons back into discussion.

“Although our focus remains on pursuing a solution through diplomatic means, we are always evaluating other options that will help create space for a negotiated solution to the crisis,” said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.

Fueling the broader debate over policy is an independent report to be issued Monday by eight former senior American officials, who urge the United States to send $3 billion in defensive arms and equipment to Ukraine, including anti-armor missiles, reconnaissance drones, armored Humvees and radars that can determine the location of enemy rocket and artillery fire.

By MICHAEL R. GORDON and ERIC SCHMITT – New York Times –