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Merkel and Hollande in Kyiv

February 5, 2015

Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel are in Ukraine with a proposal to end the civil war. As the German chancellor and French president arrived, John Kerry said Russia’s Vladimir Putin could end the conflict.

Ukraine: Merkel, Hollande
Image: S. Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

Thursday's visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande appeared aimed at stopping rumored US plans to arm Ukraine's military. The flurry of high-level diplomacy also comes as resurgent fighting in eastern Ukraine has threatened Europe's overall security.

"It will not be said that France and Germany together have not tried everything, undertaken everything, to preserve the peace," Hollande said ahead of the trip. He offered an olive branch to Vladimir Putin on the Russian president's key demand: that its neighbor stay out of the transatlantic security alliance.

"France [doesn't favor] Ukraine's entry into NATO, let us be clear," Hollande added.

Some had wondered if US Secretary of State John Kerry might use his own visit on Thursday to announce plans to arm Ukraine's military. However, Kerry seemed to pour cold water on that idea, focusing instead on how Putin might contribute to peace efforts. Back in Washington, DC, though, Senator John McCain said that US lawmakers would draft their own legislation to send arms to Ukraine if President Barack Obama failed to do so.

"Delivering weapons in this situation is the wrong path," German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Thursday as fighting raged near the separatist stronghold cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Unexpected concessions

German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that the offer Merkel and Hollande brought to Kyiv Thursday and could take to Moscow Friday offers concessions to separatists in Ukraine. In an article set to go to print on Friday, the newspaper reported that the plan would grant the separatists a much larger autonomous regions than previous agreements had - up to 1,500 square kilometers (590 square miles).

Points agreed to in September in Minsk remain, namely a weapons pullback and prisoner exchanges.

The German government has denied the report, saying it was "false."

The Minsk treaty unraveled recently, and, according to the UN, resumed fighting has claimed about 220 lives in the past three weeks alone, bringing the number of people killed total since April to more than 5,300. While acknowledging that some civilians may have crossed the border to fight in the war, Russia's government has vehemently denied backing separatists with troops and weapons, though few in Ukraine or the country's allies have bought that.

On Thursday, the top NATO commander, US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, said in no uncertain terms that Russia continued to supply the separatists with state-of-the-art heavy weapons, air defenses and fighters. NATO ministers in Brussels have agreed to boost the military alliance's forces in response to the fighting in Ukraine and Russia's increased forcefulness.

mkg/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)