The Obama administration is preparing to ratchet up sanctions on Russia and boost assistance for the Ukrainian military in the coming days, U.S. officials said Wednesday, as Ukraine struggles to contain a pro-Russian uprising in its eastern cities.
Officials said they had no plans to levy new sanctions ahead of Thursday's talks in Geneva between the U.S., Russia, Ukraine and the European Union. But with low expectations for a breakthrough in those meetings, officials already have prepared targets for sanctions that include wealthy individuals close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the entities they run.
The administration also was working on a package of non-lethal assistance for Ukraine's military. The assistance, which was expected to be finalized this week, could include medical supplies and clothing for Ukraine's military, but was expected to stop short of providing body armour and other military-style equipment.
Ukraine has asked for military assistance from the U.S., a request that was believed to include lethal aid like weapons and ammunition. But Obama administration officials said they were not actively considering supplying Ukraine with lethal assistance, a step they said could be viewed as an escalatory act by the U.S. in the midst of an already tense situation.
"We don't want to see more escalation. What we want is de-escalation," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday. "At the same time we're constantly reviewing Ukrainian request for assistance and determining what's most appropriate to provide."
Administration critics have been pressing Obama to arm the Ukrainian military in order to bolster its efforts to reassert control of its eastern region from pro-Russian insurgents who have seized numerous government facilities.
Sen. John McCain, a leading Republican, said over the weekend that the least the U.S. could do was "give them some light weapons with which to defend themselves."
U.S. assistance to Ukraine's military so far has been limited to about 300,000 ready-to-eat meals, which were shipped in late March. The U.S. also has authorized a $1 billion loan guarantee for Ukraine's fledgling government.