MUNICH (Reuters) - The West should not rule out sending weapons and other military equipment to help the Ukrainian army in its war against pro-Russian separatists, NATO's top military commander said on Saturday.
The comments by U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove were his strongest public intervention yet in the debate going on in Washington over whether the United States should send defensive weapons to help the Ukrainian government forces.
"I don't think we should preclude out of hand the possibility of the military option," Breedlove, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, told a group of reporters at the annual Munich Security Conference.
He said he was referring to providing weapons or capabilities, not sending soldiers. "There is no conversation about boots on the ground," he said.
"The Ukrainians have been straightforward in their request to all the nations of NATO and other nations as well about the capabilities they need to address artillery problems, to address communications problems and jamming problems," he said.
"The Ukrainians have asked for help in all of those areas and those are the areas that nations are discussing."
Breedlove also said proposals put forward by Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine were "completely unacceptable".
"The situation is worsening and we need to address the worsening situation," Breedlove said. "It is important that we use all the tools in the toolbox to address this.
"The Russian forces and the Russian-backed forces are changing the landscape in order to better position themselves in whatever solution that comes out of this and we need to keep the diplomatic pressure on," he said, adding that the ultimate goal was a diplomatic and political solution to the conflict.
Breedlove said the Russians had supplied more than 1,000 combat vehicles to separatists in eastern Ukraine. Moscow denies such involvement in the conflict.
"We do see hundreds of Russian regulars in eastern Ukraine providing capabilities like air defense, electronic warfare support to artillery, command and control etc ... We have not seen large regular formations of fighting troops," he said.
Many people from other countries had also been brought into the area to fight alongside the separatists in the east, he said.
Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Stephen Brown/Mark Heinrich