President Barack Obama's nominee for defense secretary, Ashton Carter, said Wednesday he would likely support delivering arms to Ukraine to counter pro-Russian separatists. He also said the United States should do everything to reassure its allies in the Baltics.
Ashton Carter
© AP/Scanpix

"I'm very much inclined in that direction, Mister Chairman, because I think we need to support the Ukrainians in defending themselves," Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee when asked by Republican Senator John McCain if he supported delivering "defensive weapons" to Kiev.

"The nature of those arms, I can't say right now," Carter noted, explaining he had not conferred with US military commanders or Ukrainian leaders on the issue.

If confirmed by the Senate as the next defense secretary, Carter said an "early" priority would be to ensure the United States was "doing enough" to reassure NATO allies in the Baltics and across eastern Europe.

"I understand that we are adding forces, rotational forces to the Baltic states as a presence there, as a deterrent to any Russian kind of adventurism," he said.

"I certainly support that, and if I'm confirmed, I'd want to look into what more we can do to do that."

The Obama administration so far has only provided "non-lethal" assistance to Ukraine, including night-vision goggles, body armour, radios and other items, while imposing economic sanctions on Russia over its role in the conflict.

Carter, a former academic who has served in top jobs at the Pentagon, was nominated in December to replace Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who resigned under pressure from the White House.

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