Kiev, Ukraine [LC]
During the first visit to Ukraine by an American defense secretary in nearly a decade, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis vowed on Thursday to support Ukraine’s ongoing confrontation with Russia. This signaled that the Trump administration is considering funneling weapons to the Ukrainian military.
This would be a departure from the policy of President Barack Obama, who did not cross that threshhold, out of concern that it could escalate tensions with the Russians.
“Defensive weapons are not provocative unless you are an aggressor, and clearly Ukraine is not an aggressor since it is their territory where the fighting is happening,” said Mattis, standing with Ukrainian President Petro O. Poroshenko.
Although State and Defense Department officials have recommended that the U.S. provide numerous weapons, recent discussion focused on the Javelin anti-tank missile.
The Russian military possesses around 2,700 tanks, including the new Armata T-14. The T-14 has active countermeasures which have prompted the Norwegian military to seek an alternative to the Javelin.
Mr. Mattis did not discuss what he would recommend to President Trump or any timetable for a decision.
“On the defensive lethal weapons, we are actively reviewing it,” he said. “I will go back now having seen the current situation and be able to inform the Secretary of State and the President in very specific terms what I recommend for the direction ahead.”
The Minsk Peace Agreement, negotiated by Russia, Ukraine and European nations in 2015, has broken down, and the renewed fighting is pushing Washington to change its policy.
President Poroshenko argued that Ukraine used the nonlethal systems it had already received from the United States in good faith. The Obama administration had been supplying non lethal military systems; providing about $750 million in body armor, night-vision equipment, radios, first-aid kits, surveillance drones, radar systems that could be used to pinpoint enemy mortars and military ambulances.
“Any defensive weapons would be just to increase the price if Russia makes a decision to attack my troops and my territory,” Poroshenko said.
— U.S. Dept of Defense (@DeptofDefense) August 24, 2017
Mattis and Poroshenko met after the commemoration of Ukraine’s 1991 declaration of independence from what was Soviet Russia. Mattis also met with Ukrainian defense minister Stepan Poltorak.
British, Canadian, Turkish, Georgian and assorted East European defense ministers also attended the commemoration, but German, French and other Western European defense ministers were absent.
When the conflict started in 2015, German chancellor Angela Merkel, opposed sending lethal weapons, arguing that they would escalate the military situation. An assessment that Russian officials publicly agree with.
“The masterminds of the plan to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine, apparently, proceed from the assumption that the situation in the east of this country isn’t explosive enough already and that it’s needed to add fuel to the fire,” said Mikhail Ulyanov, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control.
[Title Photo: Gleb Garanich]
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