The United States says the first shipment of military aid promised by President Joe Biden to Ukraine amid the standoff with Russia has arrived in Kyiv.
Washington has also endorsed a move by the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to send US-made weapons to Ukraine. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted on Saturday to salute the three NATO nations and former Soviet republics “for their longstanding support to Ukraine”.
Late on Friday the US embassy in Kyiv tweeted photos of a consignment it said had just arrived from the US, with "close to 200,000 pounds of lethal aid, including ammunition for the front line defenders of Ukraine".
The shipment demonstrated Washington's "commitment to helping Ukraine bolster its defenses in the face of growing Russian aggression", the embassy said on Twitter.
But further cracks in European unity emerged on Saturday when a diplomatic row erupted between Ukraine and Germany. Ukraine's foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Berlin of "undermining unity" and "encouraging Vladimir Putin" to attack his country, after Germany's defence minister ruled out sending weapons to Kyiv for now, arguing such a move would not help defuse tensions with Moscow.
Meanwhile Kyiv was further angered by comments made by Germany's navy chief, questioning Western views regarding Putin's intentions and suggesting Ukraine would never regain Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014.
Top US and Russian diplomats agreed on Friday to keep talking in the standoff over Ukraine, even though their meeting produced no movement in the worst security crisis to emerge between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.
Ukrainians react to rising tensions
Demonstrators formed a human chain in Ukraine's capital Kyiv on Saturday for the annual Unity Day, which marks the anniversary of the country's unification.
About 200 people held the 30-metre-long Ukrainian flag, gathering on both sides of the Dnieper River to show the union of Ukraine's east and west in 1919.
The rally was also a show of solidarity amid the recent escalation of tensions with Russia, which has massed tens of thousands of troops at the Ukrainian border.
In the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukrainian State Border Guard, Lieutenant Colonel Yurii Trubachov said the territory has "special reserves prepared".
"This territory is equipped with surveillance cameras so we will see early signs of an attack and can warn the armed forces who will send defensive support," he added.
Local resident, Victor Pichugin said he was scared as he feels like Ukraine is "on the edge of something very terrible".
Weapons for Kyiv
Washington's Western allies have also been pledging to supply weaponry and equipment to Ukraine.
Britain sent anti-tank missiles earlier this week, while the defence ministers of the Baltic nations issued a statement saying they received US approval to send Stinger air defense missiles and Javelin anti-tank missiles to strengthen Kyiv's defences.
“Today Ukraine is at the forefront of separating Europe from the military conflict with Russia,” said Estonian Defence Minister Kalle Laanet. "Let's face it — the war in Ukraine is ongoing and it is important to support Ukraine in every way we can so that they can resist the aggressor.”
President Sauli Niinistö of Finland said he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone on European security and Ukraine, saying it was “imperative to preserve peace in Europe,” according to his office.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of NATO member Turkey, which touted its strong ties with Russia and Ukraine, renewed an offer to mediate between the two countries. Erdogan said he plans to visit Kyiv next month, adding that he would also hold talks with Putin.
Talks to continue amid military build-up
Russia has further upped the ante by announcing more military drills in the region. It also has refused to rule out the possibility of military deployments to the Caribbean, and Putin has reached out to leaders opposed to the West.
Moscow denies it is planning an invasion of Ukraine, and instead accuses the West of plotting “provocations” in the country, citing the UK's delivery of weapons in recent days.
Russia wants binding security guarantees, including a permanent prohibition on Ukrainian membership in NATO, to which Kyiv aspires, and the removal of most of the US and allied military presence in eastern Europe.
Washington, Brussels and NATO have rejected these demands and warned that any attack on Ukraine would have costly consequences.
The UK government said on Saturday that Russia's defence minister Sergei Shoigu had agreed to meet his British counterpart Ben Wallace, in the first bilateral encounter between the two governments since 2013.
After their talks in Geneva on Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov the US would give Russia written responses to Moscow’s proposals next week.
Blinken said the US would be open to a meeting between Putin and President Biden, if it would be "useful and productive". The two have met once in person in Geneva and have had several virtual conversations on Ukraine that have proven largely inconclusive.
After the meeting, Blinken spoke by phone with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and reaffirmed US support for Kyiv’s sovereignty, stressing that no decisions would be made without his country’s input, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Blinken will also brief the foreign ministers of Washington’s European allies, the spokesman said.
Biden plans to spend the weekend huddling with his national security team at Camp David, the White House said.