Kerry to visit Ukraine, Germany next week
WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Ukraine next week to show U.S. support for the government as Ukrainian troops fight pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday that Kerry will be in Kiev for talks with senior Ukrainian officials and lawmakers on Feb. 5. He will then to head to an international security conference in Munich, Germany. There had been speculation Kerry might travel to Moscow during the trip, becoming the most senior U.S. official to visit Russia since the start of the Ukraine crisis last year. Psaki said no such stop is planned, although she said Kerry will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov while both men are at the Munich Security Conference.
The U.S. and Russia have been at increasing odds over the situation in Ukraine with Washington routinely accusing Moscow of supporting the rebels with heavy weaponry, including tanks and artillery, as well as military advice and personnel. Moscow denies those allegations and charges that U.S. and European support for the government in Kiev is fueling the fighting.
The violence has intensified in recent days, shattering an already poorly respected cease-fire agreement reached in September in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. More than 5,100 people have been killed thus far, according to U.N. estimates.
Earlier Friday, artillery fire killed at least 12 civilians in the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk while hopes for a break in hostilities were dashed when an attempt to call a new round of peace talks in Minsk failed.
The Obama administration has placed blame for the vast majority of the cease-fire violations on Russia and the separatists, but on Friday condemned the Donetsk shelling without identifying which party was responsible.
“It’s too early to determine responsibility for the shelling, but we call for a full and transparent investigation,” Psaki said, adding that Kerry would underscore the importance of calming the situation in his meetings in Kiev as well as with Lavrov in Munich.
“Certainly Ukraine will be a topic of discussion with Foreign Minister Lavrov; taking steps to encourage Russia and Russian-backed separatists to de-escalate the situation, abide by the Minsk agreement,” she said.
In addition to Ukraine, Kerry and Lavrov are expected to review developments in Syria following a Russian attempt to bring representatives of the opposition and President Bashar Assad’s government together in Moscow and ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Kerry may also see Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif in Munich, officials said.