The top NATO commander warned Thursday that any move to provide Ukraine with lethal defensive weapons must take into account any possible angry reaction from Russia.
U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove said that any action the U.S. or other Western nations take "could trigger a more strident reaction from Russia."
His remarks come amid signals that the U.S. is considering giving Ukraine defensive weapons to help protect forces along the border from escalating assault by Russian-backed separatists. He and other U.S. leaders insist there is no military solution to the conflict, but say that Ukraine has the right to defend itself.
"Everything we do we have to look and evaluate as to will (it) advance the ball toward that political solution that we have to find here," Breedlove told The Associated Press in an interview here.
"So all manner of aid has to be taken in light of what we anticipate would be the Russian reaction."
Breedlove would not talk about what advice he gave the administration or his NATO leadership, but he said the situation in eastern Ukraine is deteriorating and any action the U.S., takes must help move the conflict toward a political solution.
Breedlove said Russia continues to supply separatists on the border with heavy, state-of-the-art weapons, air defenses and fighters.
Douglas Lute, U.S. ambassador to NATO, said Wednesday that there are Russian intelligence operatives and military personnel, both in and out of uniform, serving in eastern Ukraine and providing a parallel command structure alongside the separatists.
"We also assess that there are Russian soldiers in southeastern Ukraine today operating the more sophisticated Russian hardware that's has been provided to the separatist movement," said Lute, pointing to electronic warfare weapons and air defense systems.
Other NATO allies, however, are expressing unease and even outright opposition to any move to provide weapons to the Ukrainians.
Canada, a close U.S. ally that is also home to a large minority community of Ukrainian origin, has no plans to supply any sort of weaponry to Ukraine, the Canadian defense minister said Thursday morning.