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Ukraine rebels to recruit 100,000; U.S. considers supplying arms to government

Dozens of civilians died over the weekend as the battle for Debaltseve continues.

By
Andrew V. Pestano

KIEV, Ukraine, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko announced plans to recruit 100,000 men as NATO and the United States consider providing weaponry to Ukraine's government.

Zakharchenko, president of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, hopes to create three motorized brigades to counterattack the Ukrainian government.

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Zakharchenko said that it would be voluntary for new recruits to join the Russian-supported rebel forces. New recruits would train for a month.

NATO officials estimate that about 1,000 Russian personnel are providing assistance to the rebels.

The apparent dissolution of September's cease-fire agreement and the losses suffered by Ukraine's armed forces has prompted NATO military commander Gen. Philip M. Breedlove and several key U.S. officials to consider providing weapons and equipment to Ukraine's government.

Outgoing U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel supports sending defensive weaponry to Ukrainian forces.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are open to new dialogue about providing weapons and equipment.

Kerry is set to visit Kiev on Thursday as the battle for the key Ukrainian city of Debaltseve rages on.

Hundreds of civilians have fled Debaltseve after reports of rebels reaching the edge of the city. Talks to create a new cease-fire agreement failed on Saturday.

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