Washington: President Barack Obama's nominee for defense secretary said on Wednesday he was "inclined" toward providing weapons to Ukraine to help the Kiev government in its fight with pro-Russian separatists.
Ashton Carter, expected to be confirmed soon by lawmakers as the next Pentagon chief, made the comment before the Senate Armed Services Committee amid signals from the Obama administration it was leaning towards providing arms to Ukraine.
"I'm very much inclined in that direction, mister chairman, because I think we need to support the Ukrainians in defending themselves," Carter said when asked by Senator John McCain if he supported delivering "defensive weapons" to Kiev.
"The nature of those arms I can't say right now," as he had not conferred with US military commanders or Ukrainian leaders on the issue, Carter said.
The Obama administration so far has only provided "non-lethal" assistance to Ukraine, including night-vision goggles, body armor, radios and other items, while imposing economic sanctions on Russia over its role in the conflict.
The White House had feared that sending in weapons could trigger a tense confrontation with Russia and escalate the conflict. But with no sign Russia is backing off in Ukraine and repeated violations of a ceasefire agreement, US officials say they are now seriously considering a shift in policy.
Washington has accused Russia of running a proxy war in Ukraine, providing advice and heavy weapons to the pro-Moscow separatists.
A group of former senior US officials and officers this week urged a major increase in military assistance for Ukraine, including providing light-armor missiles designed to take out tanks and armored vehicles.