A new peace initiative by France and Germany may be "one of the last chances" to end the deadly conflict in Ukraine, French President François Hollande warned Saturday, as debate turned to whether the U.S. should send arms to the Ukrainian military.
Speaking after traveling to Kiev and Moscow with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Hollande warned more lives would be lost if the diplomatic effort did not succeed.
"I think this is one of the last chances, that's why we took this initiative," Hollande told reporters, according to France 24.
"If we don't manage to find not just a compromise but a lasting peace agreement, we know perfectly well what the scenario will be. It has a name. It's called war," he said.
The precise details of the Franco-German initiative are as yet unclear, but Hollande said Saturday it would involve a 31- to 44-mile demilitarized zone around the current front line, which has shifted significantly since the last ceasefire deal was signed in Minsk, Belarus, in September.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Merkel said the plan was worth trying even though "it is uncertain if it will succeed."
Addressing the conference, Vice President Joe Biden said the negotiation efforts were "very much worth the attempt," but said Russia, which the West accuses of arming the separatists, must be "judged by its deeds, not words."
"Too many times President Putin has promised peace and delivered tanks, and troops, and weapons," Biden said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, also at the conference, said there were "good grounds for optimism" on the Franco-German plan.
However, Chancellor Merkel was also critical of proposals being discussed in the U.S. to send arms to the Ukrainian government to help them combat the pro-Russian separatists who have taken over swaths of the country's East. Both Republican and Democrat Senators have urged President Obama to "move quickly" to increase military assistance to Kiev.
"I understand the debate but I believe that more weapons will not lead to the progress Ukraine needs. I really doubt that," Merkel said. "There is already a large number of weapons in the region and I don't see that this has made a military solution more likely."
"The problem is that I can't envision any situation in which a better-equipped Ukraine military would convince President Putin that he could lose militarily."
Foreign Minister Lavrov warned against the proposal. "There are growing appeals in the West to support the Kiev policy of militarization, to pump Ukraine full with lethal weapons and to bring it into NATO," Lavrov said, according to Reuters. "This position will only exacerbate the tragedy of Ukraine."
But top NATO military commander U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove told reporters in Munich that the "military option" should not be "[precluded] out of hand."
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was part of a U.S. congressional delegation at the Munich conference, accused Merkel of turning her back on Ukraine's struggling democracy by rejecting the request for arms, Reuters reported.
Graham said Europe's diplomacy efforts are failing. "At the end of the day, to our European friends, this is not working. You can go to Moscow until you turn blue in the face. Stand up to what is clearly a lie and a danger," he said.
Biden insisted the U.S. does not believe there is a military solution to the conflict, but promised to "continue to provide Ukraine security assistance."
"Not to encourage war but to allow Ukraine to defend themselves," he said.
Biden, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, met with Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on the sidelines of the conference to discuss the crisis.
The meeting came as Kiev accused the rebels of intensifying their campaign of shelling and accumulating forces outside the contested towns of Debaltseve and Mariupol, according to Reuters.
Five of Kiev's servicemen were killed in the past 24 hours, military spokesman Volodymyr Polyovy told reporters, while 26 others were wounded.