The high-stakes poker game over east Ukraine continued on Monday, with US officials floating the idea of sending lethal military assistance to the government in Kiev, while Russia-backed separatists announced a plan to mobilise a 100,000-strong army.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, is due in Kiev on Thursday, and while no major announcements are expected this week he will use the visit to take the temperature in the Ukrainian capital as the US administration weighs up the move.

Lt Col Vanessa Hillman, a Pentagon spokesperson, said the administration’s focus remains on pursuing a solution through diplomatic means, but added: “We are always evaluating other options that will help create space for a negotiated solution to the crisis.”

Hillman said the administration continues to assess how best to support Ukraine while declining to discuss what she called the details of internal policy discussions. A senior administration official told the Associated Press on Monday that President Barack Obama is reconsidering sending lethal assistance to Ukraine, but remains wary of the risks of provoking a proxy war between the US and Russia.

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