Russia's aggression has brought Europe and US closer
Ukraine disaster is looming - Putin
US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted last night that Russian aggression in Ukraine had only reinforced the unity of the US and Europe.
They were speaking in Washington after discussing the prospects of reviving an elusive peace plan to end escalating conflict.
Meanwhile, speaking in Moscow Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Ukraine is on a "dead-end track fraught with a big catastrophe" if it continues with its military operations in the east of the country ahead of key peace talks later this week.
However, in Washington, Mr Obama kept the prospect open of sending defensive weapons to Ukraine's beleaguered military, should the peace initiative founder.
He said that while he has yet to make a decision on lethal aid, his team is considering "whether there are additional things we can do to help Ukraine bolster its defences in the face of Russian aggression."
However, Ms Merkel and other European leaders staunchly oppose arming Ukraine, in part out of fear of sparking a proxy war with Russia. At a joint White House news conference with Mr Obama, Ms Merkel reaffirmed that she sees no military solution to the fighting. However, she also added that no matter what Mr Obama decides, "the alliance between the United states and Europe will continue to stand, will continue to be solid".
Ms Merkel and French President Francois Hollande met with Mr Putin and Ukrainian leaders last week and announced a new summit meeting for tomorrow in Minsk. The United States was not at the negotiating table last week, nor will it participate in tomorrow's talks.
Ms Merkel, who has perhaps the strongest relationship with Mr Putin of any Western leader, said reaching a diplomatic agreement was crucial to keeping the peace in Europe.
"I myself actually would not be able to live without having made this attempt," she said through a translator.
More than 5,300 people have been killed since fighting in eastern Ukraine began in April, according to a UN tally. The bloodshed has markedly increased over the past two weeks, sparking both the new diplomatic manoeuvring and Mr Obama's re-evaluation of sending Ukraine defensive military aid.
The US president gave no indication of how quickly he would make a decision on possibly ramping up military assistance to Ukraine, nor did he indicate whether there was a specific development that might trigger that step.
"The measure by which I make these decisions is, is it more likely to be effective than not," he said.
Mr Putin showed no sign of backing down over the Ukraine crisis. A spokesman insisted that he would not be spoken to in the language of ultimatums.
Meanwhile, an EU travel ban and asset freeze on Anatoly Antonov, Russia's deputy defence minister, and 18 other Russian and Ukrainian officials has been delayed by a week to give peace negotiations with Mr Putin a chance.
Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, said that the decision had been taken because of "momentum" behind planned peace talks between the Russian leader, Ukraine, France and Germany in Minsk on Wednesday. "The principle of these sanctions remains, but the implementation will depend on results on the ground," he said at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
As diplomatic efforts to find a resolution to the Ukraine crisis were stepped up, a powerful explosion rocked a chemical plant and set it on fire outside the separatist stronghold of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.
No casualties or damage were immediately reported from the huge blast at the plant, which the rebels said was hit by government shelling.
The city lies in the middle of Ukraine's industrial heartland and explosions like this have long been feared. The rebel Donetsk News Agency said the chemical plant west of the city was hit by a Ukrainian artillery shell but the fire was put out and it posed no danger to residents.
Earlier, Mr Obama appealed to Germans to give the US "the benefit of the doubt" on National Security Agency surveillance, given US history. He said "there's no doubt" that NSA leaker Edward Snowden's revelations about the US spying programmes damaged the impression of US intelligence operations among Germans. He said that's understandable, given Germany's history. (© Daily Telegraph, London)