State Department, Pentagon want to arm Ukrainians
Proposal made as fighting in the country increases.
The Pentagon and State Department have proposed to the White House a plan to supply Ukraine with anti-tank missiles and other arms, according to Defense Department officials.
The proposed transfer — which also would include anti-aircraft arms that would be defined as defensive weaponry — comes as fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists has increased in recent days, and the United States is taking steps to deter aggressive military actions by Moscow.
The plan by the Pentagon and State Department has been presented to the White House, but no decision has been made, said a Defense Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a proposal still under review. It was not clear if President Donald Trump had been briefed on the proposal.
Whether to provide more substantial weaponry to Kiev’s beleaguered forces has embroiled U.S. policymakers for several years.
Two years ago, eight former senior U.S. officials urged the Obama administration to send $3 billion in defensive arms and equipment to Ukraine, including anti-armor missiles, reconnaissance drones, armored Humvees and radars that can determine the location of enemy rocket and artillery fire.
President Barack Obama ultimately decided against providing such lethal assistance, despite a series of striking reversals that Ukraine’s forces suffered on the battlefield.
Fearing that the provision of defensive weapons might tempt President Vladimir Putin of Russia to raise the stakes, the Obama administration limited U.S. aid to “nonlethal” items, including body armor, night-vision goggles, first aid kits and engineering equipment.
But the issue was rekindled when Trump took office.
Under the new proposal, the administration would provide anti-tank weapons, most likely Javelin missiles, as well as possibly anti-aircraft weapons, in addition to other arms.
Ukraine has long sought Javelins to counter Russian-made armored vehicles in rebel-held areas.
While it has not supplied anti-tank missiles thus far, the U.S. military has been assisting the Ukrainian army by training soldiers in methods to halt armored vehicles without missiles, such as by laying traps of wire that coil into the treads of tracked vehicles.
The U.S. training at the Yavoriv base in western Ukraine is focused on forging a disciplined, professional military from the mix of volunteer groups that first fought the Russian incursion, rather than placing bets on any high-tech weapons systems.
Still, the Ukrainian military has been clamoring for better equipment.
The defense minister, Stepan Poltorak, said last month the military was ready to receive U.S.-made lethal weaponry if Trump approved the transfer.