Ukraine peace bid one of last chances to avoid war: France's Hollande

French President Francois Hollande (centre) arriving in Moscow, Russia on Feb 6, 2015. Mr Hollande on Saturday said a current Franco-German bid to end the Ukraine conflict was "one of the last chances" of avoiding "war" in the ex-Soviet nation.
French President Francois Hollande (centre) arriving in Moscow, Russia on Feb 6, 2015. Mr Hollande on Saturday said a current Franco-German bid to end the Ukraine conflict was "one of the last chances" of avoiding "war" in the ex-Soviet nation. -- PHOTO: EPA

TULLE, France (AFP) - French President Francois Hollande on Saturday said a current Franco-German bid to end the Ukraine conflict was "one of the last chances" of avoiding "war" in the ex-Soviet nation.

"I think it's one of the last chances ... If we fail to find a lasting peace agreement, we know the scenario perfectly well: it has a name, it is called war," the French leader said while on a visit to southern France.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel meanwhile said there is "no military solution" to the 10-month-old conflict between Ukraine government forces and pro-Russia rebels and that she opposes the idea of Western weapons deliveries to Ukraine.

"I think that the progress Ukraine needs won't be achieved with even more weapons. I am very, very doubtful," she said on Saturday, adding that "there are a lot of weapons in the region" already.

"I am of the firm conviction that there is no military solution to the conflict," she told the Munich Security Conference a day after she and Hollande held crisis talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

Debate at the high-profile Munich Security Conference focused on an emerging rift between America and Europe on over how to confront Putin as the Moscow-backed rebels gain territory.

US President Barack Obama is under pressure from some in Congress to provide Kiev with lethal weapons. Nato’s top military commander, US Air Force general Philip Breedlove, gave the strongest signals yet in Munich that he now wants the Western allies to consider sending weapons to Ukraine.

“I don’t think we should preclude out of hand the possibility of the military option,” Breedlove told reporters, adding that he was referring to weapons or capabilities and that there was “no conversation about boots on the ground”.

In Kiev on Saturday, the Ukrainian military spokesman said separatists had stepped up shelling of government forces on all front lines and appeared to be massing for new offensives on the key railway town of Debaltseve and the coastal city of Mariupol.

Merkel and Hollande flew home from Moscow in the dead of night after five hours of talks with Putin on Friday that yielded little beyond a promise to keep talking.

Merkel held three-way talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and US Vice President Joe Biden in Munich and will fly to Washington on Sunday to meet Obama.