Washington: US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday landed in Geneva for crucial talks on Ukraine as pro-Russian activists upped the ante in eastern city of Kramatorsk where they seized Ukraine`s military vehicles and disarming the soldiers.
The talks in Geneva are crucial as the eastern part of ex-Soviet bloc faces an increasing risk of breaking up with the government losing grasp over its eastern part, where pro-Russian separatists are ratcheting up the aggresion with each passing day.
"A column was blocked by a crowd of local people in Kramatorsk with members of a Russian diversionary-terrorist group among them," Ukraine defence ministry said its statement.
Having warned Russia already of costs, the US is mulling sanctions on Moscow in wake of the tension escalation in eastern Ukraine.
However, 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 brakthrough 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 Obama 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 armor 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. "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.
In addition to seeking a way to de-escalate tensions between Kiev and Moscow, the Geneva meeting also was expected to touch on the West`s efforts to help stabilize Ukraine`s economy with an anticipated loan by the International Monetary Fund.
Ukraine`s military launched its first actions against the pro-Russian forces on Tuesday. But just a day later the central government`s hopes of re-establishing control of the restive east were dampened when the insurgents commandeered six Ukrainian armored vehicles along with their crews and hoisted Russian flags over them.
The Ukrainian soldiers manning the vehicles offered no armed resistance, and masked pro-Russian militias in combat fatigues sat on top as they drove into the eastern city of Slovyansk, a hotbed of unrest against Ukraine`s interim government.
The West is also warily watching the 40,000 Russian troops massed on its border with Ukraine. U.S. officials say they believe Putin has put the troops there to give him the option to invade, but has not yet made a decision on his next move.
With Agency Inputs