Germany’s defense minister has warned against supplying weapons to Ukraine for fears it could derail the already delicate negotiations for a peaceful solution to the conflict between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels -- a position that may put Germany, a leading member of NATO and U.S. ally, at odds with Washington.
Ursula von der Leyen made the comments Friday as she addressed the annual Munich Security Conference, which brings together the world's top defense and foreign policy leaders from government and the private sector. The discussion this year focuses on the conflict in Ukraine, now almost one year old, which has claimed around 5,300 lives so far.
"I am convinced that arms deliveries could become a catalyst [of the conflict], and push the desired solution even further back," von der Leyen said.
Her comments came after leaders in Washington mulled over the possibility of sending “lethal aid” to the beleaguered Ukrainian military, which is losing ground to pro-Russian rebels in the contested regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.
Von der leyen’s comments echo German chancellor Angela Merkel, who said earlier this month that Germany would not supply weapons to Ukraine, preferring to find a peaceful solution to the conflict instead.
To that end, she and French President François Hollande met with Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in Kiev before meeting Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Friday. Both meetings were aimed at discussing new proposals to end the conflict peacefully.
Fighting intensified in the east of Ukraine during January, particularly after peace talks due to take place in Astana, Kazakhstan, in January were canceled.
Recent clashes and shelling have killed dozens of people in the cities of Debaltseve and Mariupol. Debaltseve, now the center of fighting, is a key transport hub which rebels, backed by Russia according to the West, are trying hard to conquer. Mariupol, on the southern coast of Ukraine, could offer a land bridge from Crimea, which Russia annexed last year, to Russia proper.