The top US diplomat for Europe has accused Russia of unleashing “unspeakable violence and pillage” in eastern Ukraine which she said is living under “a reign of terror.”
"Even as Ukraine is building a peaceful, democratic, independent nation across 93 percent of its territory, Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine are suffering a reign of terror," Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.
"Today Crimea remains under illegal occupation and human rights abuses are the norm, not the exception, for many at risk groups there," she added in her testimony.
Nuland said the Ukrainian conflict was “manufactured” by the Kremlin, fueled by “Russian tanks and heavy weapons,” and “financed at Russian taxpayers' expense.”
Kiev and the West have repeatedly accused Moscow of fueling the crisis in Ukraine by sending weapons and troops into eastern Ukraine in support of the pro-Russian forces there, an accusation denied by the Kremlin.
Nuland claimed that hundreds of Russian soldiers have been killed in clashes with the Ukrainian military forces in eastern regions of the country.
“It is pretty difficult to have a completely accurate assessment given Russia’ efforts to mask its dead, but we estimate it in hundreds and hundreds… I cannot speak to more than 400-500 [at the moment,” she told the Senate panel.
She also said the United States "can confirm" that Russia has transferred tanks, armored vehicles, heavy artillery and rocket equipment over the border to the pro-Russian forces operating in eastern Ukraine.
Last week, Nuland called Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine “an invasion,” marking the first time a senior US official has used the term in reference to the Kremlin. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and US ambassadors have so far avoided using the term.
Meanwhile, some members of Congress have stepped up pressure on the White House to counter what they see as increased “aggression” by Moscow.
“We urge you to quickly approve additional efforts to support Ukraine's efforts to defend its sovereign territory, including through the transfer of lethal, defensive weapons systems to the Ukrainian military," read a letter Thursday to President Barack Obama by 11 lawmakers.
House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and top Republicans and Democrats on various House committees signed the letter.
Last month, Obama said his administration was still considering sending lethal aid to Ukraine, saying, "If, in fact, diplomacy fails, what I've asked my team to do is to look at all options."