State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on December 22 that the US was going to provide Ukraine with "enhanced defensive capabilities as part of our effort to help Ukraine build its long-term defense capacity, to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to deter further aggression." Among the weapons being sent are US-made FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles, the official said. US media reported on the same day that President Donald Trump approved a plan to provide lethal weapons to Kiev, including the sale of the missiles, although that was not referenced in the State Department statement.
The move intensifies US support for Ukraine's military. Previously, the US has provided Ukraine with support equipment and training, and has let private companies sell some small arms like rifles. The State Department approved on Dec. 20 a license for US manufacturers to sell .50 caliber firearms and smaller weapons to Ukraine, including assault rifles, combat shotguns, silencers, military scopes and flash suppressors. The package includes a license for the $41.5 million commercial sale of .50 caliber Barrett M107A1 sniper rifles and ammunition. Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the license was “nothing new” since Ukraine has previously purchased small amounts of such weapons.
The action was actively supported by both high-level national security officials in the White House and members of Congress. President Trump approved the plan based on the suggestions from both the State Department and the Pentagon.
The US intensified support for Ukraine's military also comes amid discussions about sending UN peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine. There are major disagreements about how and where the peacekeepers would operate, especially about whether they would be deployed only on the "line of conflict" between separatists and the government. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has reported at least 1,000 ceasefire violations a day this month.
The move is likely to further damage already frayed relations between Washington and Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned US assistance would escalate the conflict. "Today the United States is clearly pushing the Ukrainian authorities towards new bloodshed," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in a statement on December 23. According to him, the decision will only make the conflict more deadly and suggested that Russia could be forced to respond. He also said the US can no longer cast itself as a mediator. "It's not a mediator. It's an accomplice in fueling the war." On December 18, Russia pulled its officers from the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC), accusing the Ukrainian side of obstructing their work and limiting access to the front line. The talks between Kurt Volker, US Special Envoy to Ukraine, and Vladislav Surkov, Kremlin aide, have failed to make progress.
If the decision is implemented, it would risk turning the Donbass conflict from cool to warm—or even hot. Kiev will see the move as an explicit expression of US backing to provoke it into taking a more aggressive stand. With US arms flowing in, Ukraine will press harder for a military solution. The US says the weapons are “defensive” but big caliber rifles and anti-tank weapons are used in defense and attack as well. Ukraine is so unstable that no provisions included into the deal would guarantee the weapons don’t get into wrong hands.
Ukraine is hardly in a position to pay for the deliveries. If it does not, how will the administration explain the need to spend money on providing weapons to the world’s ninth -largest arms exporter? Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has launched a program to make his country one of world’s “top five” global arms providers. Ukraine hopes to become a major arms exporter to NATO countries.
35 Javelin systems with 210 missiles as a well sniper rifles don’t change the balance of forces. Actually, with Ottawa taking a decision to allow arms sales Ukraine, the US could supply Kiev with weapons via Canada. But the decision entails more American military instructors in Ukraine. Whatever weapon one sells, training is to follow. It will increase even more the US military presence in Ukraine and, consequently, its involvement, making it a party in the ongoing civil war. That’s what Kiev wants – to suck the US into the armed conflict. The US already operates a naval facility in Ochakov. US warships will routinely drop anchor in Ukrainian ports, trainers to teach how to operate Javelins will be accompanied by other people, including interpreters and civilian personnel. Step by step, more Americans will be coming to Ukraine.
The decision will inevitably deteriorate the US-Russia relations, already at a low ebb, even further. Imagine Russia doing the same thing in Canada, Mexico or Cuba! Will the US turn a blind eye on such activities? Certainly not. Moscow will have to respond. For instance, it could deliver more contemporary weapons to the self-proclaimed republics in the east of Ukraine, among other things. The move will trigger violations of cease-fire in eastern Ukraine at the time of presidential race in Russia and undermine chances for the Minsk accords to succeed. But it will not benefit the United States in any way. Getting dragged into another conflict so far away from its borders is the last thing America needs now.
Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.