WASHINGTON -- Hours before Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) compared Europe's attitude toward Russian President Vladimir Putin to appeasement toward Nazi Germany, the German ambassador here warned U.S. hawks not to see a military solution as the only way forward on Ukraine.
Germany has "the sense this conflict is spiraling," Ambassador Peter Wittig said in a small briefing with reporters at the Germany embassy in Washington. But he urged proponents of sending arms to Ukraine to remember that diplomacy at the highest levels -- including what he called "an unusual trip" by the leaders of Germany and France to Moscow on Friday -- may still bear fruit.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel "would not go there if she had no hope that something would be achieved," the ambassador said. "She's not going empty-handed."
Wittig said he could not speak about any potential deal that Merkel and French President Francois Hollande may hope to strike with Putin.
The ambassador said his comments -- including questions to those who support sending arms, like, "Where should that lead to?" and "Does it lead to an improvement?" -- were not meant to insult U.S. figures like McCain. Instead, he said they were meant as "an appeal."
He warned that an even more serious military confrontation with Russia may ensue if the U.S. were to follow through on delivering arms to the embattled Ukrainian government, which has been fighting rebels tied to Putin for months. More than 5,000 have been killed in the fighting since April.
The New York Times reported over the weekend that support was growing in the Obama administration and NATO for sending defensive weapons and equipment to the Ukrainian army following recent major rebel victories. The day the story was published, eight senior one-time U.S. officials now working for a range of Washington think tanks published a rare joint report urging immediate action to arm Ukraine. Ukrainian government leaders have called for such assistance, most recently in an interview published Thursday by German outlet Die Welt.
McCain and others in a bipartisan group of legislators said Thursday that sending arms to Kiev was the only way to deter further advances by the pro-Russian rebels.
"Defensive, lethal assistance will not allow the Ukrainian military to defeat the Russian military in a full-fledged war. But it will raise the risks and costs Russia must incur to continue its offensive," McCain said. He called the Europeans, who have put their hopes in diplomacy, "a huge disappointment."
Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kiev Thursday and committed millions in new humanitarian aid to Ukraine. But the administration has not yet made clear whether it will send arms, suggesting it may be waiting to see whether the negotiations between Merkel, Hollande and Putin produce a workable agreement.
Wittig said Germany, too, is frustrated with "the lacking results of all diplomatic efforts" so far, including an agreement reached in Minsk in September that was meant to put an end to the clashes.
Still, Wittig added, the U.S. and Germany agree on the "common basis of a non-military agreement."