The United States is developing a plan to provide the Ukrainian government with specific information on where Russian-supplied missiles are so they can be targeted and destroyed, The New York Times reported
"We think we could do it easily and be very effective," a senior Pentagon official told the Times. "But there are issues of escalation with the Russians, and the decision about whether it’s wise to do it" is complex.
The plan has not been discussed within the White House, the Times reports, and it comes amid concerns that President Barack Obama might be wary because it could be seen as the U.S. expanding its role in the conflict.
"The debate is over how much to help Ukraine without provoking Russia," and President Vladimir Putin, another senior administration official told the Times.
But officials from both the U.S. and Ukraine have accused Moscow of becoming more involved by moving heavily artillery across the border to the rebels. The Russian Foreign Ministry has balked at such accusations.
The Times report comes as Ukrainian officials said on Saturday that their forces advanced to the outskirts of a key town north of Donetsk in an effort to retake the stronghold that has been held for months by pro-Russia rebels.
Ukrainian forces appear to have gained some momentum recently by retaking control of territory from the rebels, according to Andriy Lysenko, national security spokesman. He said that Ukrainian forces were outside Horlikva, just north of the regional center of Donetsk.
Once they can take Horlivka, "the direct route is open for the forces of the anti-terrorist operation to the capital of the Donbass region, the city of Donetsk," Lysenko said.
"The approaches to Donetsk are being blocked so that the terrorists do not get the chance to receive ammunition, reinforcements or equipment."
Donetsk, a city of about 1 million people, is a major center of the separatist uprising that has battled Ukrainian government forces for five months.
Russia launched artillery attacks from its soil into Ukraine on Friday — and the United States said it had seen powerful rocket systems moving closer to the Ukraine border.
The Russian Foreign Ministry strongly denied the accusations, charging the U.S. with conducting "an unrelenting campaign of slander against Russia, ever more relying on open lies."
In its report, the Times said that the plan being weighed for the Ukraine is similar to one the U.S. conducts for Iraq in its battle against Islamic terrorists. As such, the technological demands would not be difficult.
But the dilemma facing the Obama administration is whether to simply shore up the Ukrainian government or "send a stern message" to Putin by aggressively helping Ukraine target the missiles Russia has provided, the Times reports.
Those missiles have downed at least five aircraft in the last 10 days, including Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. The July 17 crash killed 298 passengers and crew members.
If Putin did not face strong resistance to Russia’s efforts in Ukraine, he may choose to act further, some U.S. officials told the Times. Secretary of State John Kerry also supports sharing the intelligence with Ukrainian officials, according to the report.
Other U.S. intelligence officials, meanwhile, questioned whether the Ukrainian military had the necessary equipment or training to successfully hit the Russian targets — and expressed concerns about the potential dangers if they were missed.
"Although providing the Ukrainian forces with target location data may seem like a panacea, the actual destruction of these mobile launchers by Ukrainian forces may prove quite a bit more difficult," Reed Foster, an analyst at IHS Jane’s, told the Times.
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