The United States will continue sanctions against Russia and financial support of Ukrainian forces, but will not send lethal weapons, President Obama indicated at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House this afternoon.
“We continue to encourage a diplomatic resolution to this issue,” Obama said. “The prospect for a military solution to this problem has always been low.”
Merkel’s meeting with Obama is one of many diplomatic talks the Chancellor has held to find a peaceful resolution to the Ukraine crisis.
“We have been providing assistance to the Ukrainian military generally,” Obama said. “Our goal has not been for Ukraine to be equipped to carry on offensive operations, but to simply defend itself. It is our ongoing analysis of what can we do to dissuade Russia from encroaching further and further on Ukrainian territory?”
The president’s statements show clear agreement with Merkel’s strategies articulated at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.
“I cannot imagine a situation in which an improved arming of the Ukrainian army leads to President Putin being so impressed that he believes he will lose militarily,” she said at the Conference. “This cannot be won militarily. That is the bitter truth. The international community must think of something else.”
Merkel met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Francois Hollande in Moscow on Friday to attempt to come to an agreement to end the conflict in Ukraine. In Brussels, EU ministers have postponed imposing new sanctions on Russia, to allow time for last-ditch peace talks.
In Munich, Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko made a passionate plea to end the conflict, saying that the “death toll of the Ukrainian soldiers defending their land from aggressor is constantly rising” due to the actions of “terrorists financed, trained and equipped by Russia.” Poroshenko plead for aid in an address to Congress last September.
“It is now clear that if Ukraine does not succeed in restoring peace and its territorial integrity, the revision of borders, spread of terrorism, humanitarian and technological disasters, flexing of nuclear mussels will continue,” Poroshenko said, according to the Kiev Post.
Key Republicans in Congress have criticized Merkel’s diplomatic efforts as pacifist, and advocate for a strong response to Poroshenko’s call.
“The Ukrainians are being slaughtered and we're sending them blankets and meals," Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain said in response to Merkel’s remarks this weekend. "Blankets don't do well against Russian tanks.”
He continued: “If we help Ukrainians increase the military cost to the Russian forces that have invaded their country, how long can Putin sustain a war that he tells his people is not happening?”
Obama's nominee for Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, voiced his support for sending arms in a confirmation hearing last week. Potential 2016 candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is also an advocate for sending weapons.
“And when it comes to Russia and Ukraine, the path we’re on doesn’t make any sense. We need to be providing defensive arms to the people of Ukraine,” Cruz said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We have a treaty obligation to stand with them, and right now, unfortunately, the Obama administration is not honoring that obligation.”
The White House, however, remains staunch in its opposition to sending weapons.
“Let me be clear: We do not believe there is a military solution in Ukraine,” Vice President Biden said in Munich Saturday. “But let me be equally clear: We do not believe Russia has the right to do what they're doing. We believe we should attempt an honorable peace. But we also believe the Ukrainian people have a right to defend themselves.”
Merkel will meet again with Putin, Poroshenko and Hollande in Minsk on Wednesday.