U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey for the first time said the United States should consider giving “lethal aid” to Ukraine in its fight against pro-Russian separatists. The top-ranking military officer urged lawmakers in Washington Tuesday to back the possibility of arming Ukrainian government troops along with NATO allies, according to Defense One.

“I think we should absolutely consider lethal aid and it ought to be in the context of NATO allies because [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s ultimate objective is to fracture NATO,” Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

Dempsey’s remarks echoed those of U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who earlier this month reportedly told the same panel he was inclined to support providing Ukraine with arms. The newly appointed Pentagon chief also questioned whether the Obama administration was “in fact doing enough” to protect U.S. Baltic allies in NATO, the Guardian reported at the time.

“I very much inclined in that direction because I think we need to support the Ukrainians in defending themselves,” Carter told the Senate armed services committee Feb. 4, according to Defense One.

U.S. President Barack Obama has mulled over supplying Ukraine with weapons, but some NATO members -- including Germany and France -- fear it could further escalate the 11-month-long conflict that has killed 6,000 people, the United Nations said Monday.

The U.S. Army is preparing to send some 300 troops at a time to train Ukrainian National Guard forces in western Ukraine as part of a State Department initiative “to assist Ukraine in strengthening its law enforcement capabilities, conduct internal defense, and maintain rule of law,” Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Vanessa Hillman told Defense News.

The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France have agreed to send observers to flashpoints in east Ukraine to monitor the shaky cease-fire agreement, to which both sides agreed earlier this month. Western leaders threatened Putin with stricter sanctions Tuesday if Russia violates the Feb. 12 truce between the Ukrainian army and the pro-Russian rebels, the Guardian reported.

Pro-Russian separatists rebelled in east Ukraine last April following the ousting of a Moscow Kremlin-backed president in Kiev and Russia’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula. Western nations have long accused Putin of fueling the rebellion by funding and arming the separatists, but the Russian leader has denied the allegations.