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World

Kerry Visits Kiev To Show Support For Beleaguered Ukrainian Government

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There is a new level of urgency to calm the crisis in Ukraine. Months and months of sanctions against Russia have failed to calm the crisis, and a new offensive by separatists in eastern Ukraine is increasing the death toll and destruction in the area.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In a moment, we'll hear why one political scientist says providing Ukraine with lethal defensive weapons would be a mistake. But first, the latest round of intense diplomacy in Kiev today - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with the Ukrainian president. Here's Kerry at a news conference after that meeting.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

JOHN KERRY: Russia and the separatists are seizing more territory, terrorizing more citizens and refusing to participate in serious negotiations.

CORNISH: French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also held meetings in Ukraine and will be going to Moscow tomorrow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with Secretary Kerry. And explain the mood earlier today in Kiev.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Well, you know, there's just a lot of concern, Audie, about this surge in fighting in the east of Ukraine. The U.S. and Europe say Russia has been feeling this conflict, shipping heavy weapons. And the Western policy of sanctions just hasn't changed Putin's calculations here. So everyone's trying to figure out what his end game is, how to get the Russians and the separatists to go back to the cease-fire lines that they agreed to last year. And no one really wants to relitigate that peace deal. And everyone seems to be sort of testing each other at the moment.

CORNISH: Why are the leaders of the two, I mean, leading countries in western Europe flying to Moscow to meet Putin?

KELEMEN: Well, we're told that Putin has come up with some new peace proposals, which one Western diplomat described as a cynical attempt to get out from those commitments that the Russians made last year. France and Germany are offering counterproposals. And remember, this all comes against this backdrop of a separatist offensive - the separatists and their Russian backers seem to think that the Europeans just want any diplomatic solution. Kerry says Ukraine has already offered what the Russians say they want, which is more autonomy for these predominantly ethnic Russian areas of eastern Ukraine. And Kerry says the Russians have to do their part and pull out troops and tanks and seal off that border.

CORNISH: If this peace plan doesn't work, what can Secretary Kerry and U.S. allies do to help Ukraine stop the Russian-backed separatists?

KELEMEN: Well, we know what they're not planning to do - at least not yet - and that is ship weapons to Kiev - the weapons that Kiev has been seeking. Kerry came with $16 million in fresh humanitarian aid for the East, but his aides have made clear that the Obama administration is still weighing this idea and has not yet decided to ship things like anti-tank missiles, something experts in Washington have been talking about all week. The other thing they're talking about is stepping up sanctions, and that's something we'll likely hear in the weeks ahead.

CORNISH: And this is all happening on the eve of the annual security conference in Munich where Vice President Biden and John Kerry are expected to lay out U.S. security concerns for the coming year, correct?

KELEMEN: That's right. And the two of them are also having a meeting with Ukraine's president who will be there along with Chancellor Merkel who will be back from Russia. Kerry is also going to be meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. So this is what one State Department official likes to say, live diplomacy. Another big concern that we're likely to hear about at this Munich conference is Russia's aggressive actions in the skies over Europe - planes flying with their transponders off and other tests that NATO countries see as provocative. Just today NATO said it plans a huge increase in its rapid reaction force. It's supposed to deter Russian aggression, and we're going to hear from NATO's secretary general in Munich as well.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen, traveling with Secretary John Kerry. Michele, thanks so much.

KELEMEN: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.