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Kerry: U.S. ‘cannot close our eyes’ to Russian fighters in Ukraine

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    In Ukraine, a debate over guns or diplomacy, a battle over that choice shaped up today as Western leaders sought to stop the killing and rein in Russia. The French president, the German chancellor, and America's top diplomat all hurried to Ukraine in search of an answer.

    Night had fallen by the time the leaders of France and Germany landed in Kiev. They were driven directly to the presidential palace to meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in a bid to stop the escalating war.

    Before leaving Paris, French President Francois Hollande spoke of the growing urgency.

  • PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, France (through interpreter):

    We will make a new proposal to solve the conflict. It won't be said that France and Germany, together, haven't tried everything, undertaken everything to preserve peace.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    France, Germany and other nations oppose supplying Ukraine with arms.

    Meanwhile, in Brussels, NATO defense ministers agreed on new moves to counter Russia's aggressive actions by more than doubling the size of a ready response force, and setting up new command centers in Eastern Europe. As fighting in the east has escalated, both NATO and Ukraine charge the Russians are supplying tanks, heavy weapons and even troops to the Ukrainian rebels, something the Russians deny.

    That's led to White House discussions of whether the U.S. should start shipping weapons to Ukraine's military.

    Secretary of State John Kerry, also in Kiev today, didn't rule out sending lethal aid, but, noting that President Obama doesn't want a proxy war, he didn't rule it in either.

    JOHN KERRY, U.S. Secretary of State: We want a diplomatic resolution, but we cannot close our eyes to tanks that are crossing the border from Russia and coming in to Ukraine. We can't close our eyes to Russian fighters in unmarked uniforms crossing the border.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Publicly, at least, the White House insists providing military assistance to Ukraine could simply increase the bloodshed. But there was growing pressure elsewhere in Washington to act.

    SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) South Carolina: This is a fight between a struggling democracy and an autocratic dictatorship. And we should take sides.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and other senators, from both parties, continued to press the White House to arm Ukrainian forces.

    Yesterday, defense-secretary-designate Ashton Carter weighed in.

    ASHTON CARTER, Secretary of Defense-Designate: I'm very much inclined in that direction, Mr. Chairman, because I think we need to support the Ukrainians in defending themselves.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But Carter, who has not yet been confirmed by the Senate, later backed away from that statement.

    In Moscow, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman fired a verbal warning shot, warning against the prospect of any American military involvement.

  • ALEXANDER LUKASHEVICH, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman (through interpreter):

    We can state that Washington's actions intentionally lead Russia-U.S. relations into a deadlock, and it will take a very long time to find a way out.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    France's Hollande and Germany's Merkel travel to Moscow tomorrow.

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