The United States and its European allies are in talks about harsher sanctions against Moscow, while U.S. President Barack Obama will evaluate next steps in dealing with the conflict in eastern Ukraine in coming days, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday.
Kerry was speaking after meetings with his British counterpart Philip Hammond in London. He said among options being considered by Obama was whether to arm Ukrainian forces and to impose deeper sanctions against the Kremlin for breaches of a Feb. 12 European-brokered truce.
"In the next few days I anticipate that President Obama will evaluate the choices that are in front of him and will make his decision as to what the next step will be," Kerry told a news conference after meetings with Hammond.
"There are serious discussions taking place between us and our European allies as to what those next sanctions steps ought to be and when they ought to be implemented," Kerry said.
"I am confident some additional steps will be taken in response to the breaches of the ceasefire."
The Kiev military on Friday accused Russia of sending more tanks and troops towards the rebel-held town of Novoazovsk, further east along the Sea of Azov coast from Mariupol, expanding their presence on what it fears could be the next battlefront.
The Kremlin did not immediately respond to the allegation but has always denied accusations that its forces are fighting in Ukraine.
Kerry said the most "egregious violation" of the ceasefire was the assault on the city of Debaltseve and military supplies sent by Moscow to separatists.
"We know to a certainty what Russia has been providing and no amount of propaganda is capable of hiding these actions," Kerry said. "For anyone wanting to make gray areas out of black, let's get very real, the Minsk agreement is not open to interpretation, it is not vague, it is not optional."
He said Russia and the rebels were only complying with the ceasefire accords in a few areas.
"If this failure continues, make no mistake, there will be further consequences, including consequences that will put added strains on Russia's already troubled economy," Kerry said, "We are not going to sit back and allow this kind of cynical, craven behavior to continue at the expensive of the sovereignty of another nation."
Pro-Russian separatists are building up forces and weapons in Ukraine's southeast and the Ukrainian military said on Saturday it was braced for a possible rebel attack on the port city of Mariupol.
The ceasefire has already been shaken by the rebel capture on Wednesday of Debaltseve, a railway junction in eastern Ukraine, forcing a retreat by thousands of Ukrainian troops in which at least 20 Ukrainian soldiers were killed.
Hammond said the ceasefire had been "systematically breached" and he would discuss with Kerry how Europe and the United States could remain united in tackling the challenge in Ukraine.
Ukraine's deputy foreign minister says he is preparing for "full-scale war" against Russia and wants Canada to help by supplying lethal weapons and the training to use them.
Vadym Prystaiko, who until last fall was Ukraine's ambassador to Canada, says the world must not be afraid of joining Ukraine in the fight against a nuclear power.
In an interview with CBC Radio's The House airing Saturday, Prystaiko says the ceasefire brokered by Germany and France was not holding.
"The biggest hub we ever had in the railroad is completely destroyed and devastated," he told host Evan Solomon about Debaltseve, captured by Russian-backed rebels after the terms were to have taken effect earlier this week.
"We see that they are not stopping," he says, suggesting the fight was now heading south to the port of Mariupol.
"It doesn't take a genius to see what they are trying to do.… They are taking more and more strategic points."
"The stakes are really high," Prystaiko says, pointing out that Ukraine has now closed its border crossing with Russia. "We don't want to scare everybody, but we are preparing for full-scale war."
What to do in the face of such a threat? For starters, get over your fears, he says.
"We would like Canada to send lethal weapons to Ukraine," he said. "Weapons to allow us to defend ourselves."
Beyond weapons, Prystaiko emphasized the importance of financial assistance, including a package on its way from Canada and Japan.
"Don't forget that the infrastructure in Donetsk is already devastated. We've lost at least 20 per cent of the industrial [output] of Ukraine. We've had to close the market with Russia, which is a third of our exports and imports.