Despite Vladimir Putin's posturing for a peaceful resolution to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, a senior US State Department official says Eastern Ukraine's security position is "dire" and Russia is "failing miserably" in its peace efforts, CNN reports. The official spoke today on John Kerry's plane as he headed to Kiev to meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Speaking later on the ground, Kerry called on Russia to pull heavy weapons, equipment, and troops out of Ukraine and shut down the border in a solution to the crisis "that is staring everyone in the face." French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are also set to arrive in Kiev today before heading to Russia tomorrow to meet with Putin, CNN notes.
Kerry has pledged $16.4 million in new humanitarian aid to Ukraine designed to "help alleviate the suffering of people in conflict-affected areas," a State Department statement issued today said. Meanwhile, NATO is refining its strategy as well. Even though Ukraine isn't a member, the organization says it "strongly supports" the beleaguered country and would continue to offer political and practical assistance, as per CNN. In discussion now are plans to set up dedicated NATO command centers in six member nations, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland. These units would help with NATO training in these countries and make it easier to quickly deploy troops. Meanwhile, the US is mulling whether to send defensive "lethal aid" such as anti-armor missiles to Ukrainian troops to help them fight pro-Russia rebels. (Read more Russia-Ukraine conflict stories.)