U.S. Joins Europe in Efforts to End Fighting in Ukraine

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from The New York Times,

With fighting intensifying in eastern Ukraine and the White House weighing whether to send arms to bolster the government’s forces, Western leaders embarked on a broad diplomatic effort on Thursday aimed at ending a conflict that has strained relations with Russia.

Yet, the prospects of achieving a new peace plan remained clouded by deep suspicions of Moscow, born of its history of dissembling about its intentions and operations in Ukraine, Western diplomats and Ukrainian officials said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President François Hollande of France traveled to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on Thursday for talks with President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine, officials from the two countries said.

On Friday, Ms. Merkel and Mr. Hollande are to continue to Moscow, to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin to discuss a new initiative from the Kremlin to end the fighting in Ukraine, which has killed more than 5,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands over the past year. Mr. Hollande said that he and Ms. Merkel would present an initiative to end the fighting and guarantee the “full territorial integrity” of Ukraine.

The German and French moves were announced as Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kiev for high-level talks. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. prepared for parallel consultations on Friday with European leaders in Brussels.

The deep Western distrust of Moscow has been heightened by what diplomats say is the Kremlin’s role in the arming, financing and guiding of rebel separatists in the current surge in fighting in eastern Ukraine, even after helping forge a cease-fire in September.

Since the accord was signed, the Russian-backed separatists have taken control of about 200 square miles in the east, including the airport at Donetsk, and they are currently threatening Debaltseve, a town that sits astride a critical rail hub.

Mr. Kerry did not mince words in a news conference Thursday in Kiev, laying blame for the renewed violence in eastern Ukraine at the door of the Kremlin. “We talked about the largest threat that Ukraine faces today, and that is Russia’s continued aggression in the east,” he said after meeting with Ukrainian officials.

Mr. Kerry, who announced $16.4 million in humanitarian assistance for eastern Ukraine, plans to press for a new cease-fire.

In a joint appearance with Mr. Poroshenko, Mr. Kerry said that France, Germany and the United States were united in supporting a peaceful resolution to the conflict. And he called for Russia to agree to a cease-fire.

“We do have three different issue areas in play,” a senior official in the Obama administration said on Wednesday, discussing Mr. Biden’s trip. “One is the potential to increase the costs to Russia through economic measures. The second is to make sure that Ukraine has the financial support it needs moving forward. And the third is to enhance Ukraine’s ability to defend itself and thereby give the Russians and the separatists a greater incentive to negotiate an end to the conflict.”

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