In case you missed it, shortly before Christmas, the Administration announced approval to sell lethal arms to Ukraine. According to the Washington Post on December 23rd, the approval includes “light weapons and small arms…from commercial U.S. manufacturers” that are defensive in nature. Response to the decision so far has been mixed, with some lauding the move while others warn of increased complications in U.S.- Russia relations. Below are summaries of some of what has been published so far to help readers assess the move for themselves.
Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Roger Wicker issued a press release at www.csce.gov shortly after the decision. He called it, “a good first step to give the Ukrainian people the means to defend themselves.” Senator Wicker is also a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and is hopeful the approval will eventually extend to anti-tank weapons and other heavy arms.
A Voice of America article on December 22nd stated that a U.S. company had already been selling weapons to Ukraine since last year, having obtained an export license and working closely with the State Department and Department of Defense. Licenses have been granted for small-scale purchases in the past on a case-by-case basis. The article also reported that Congress has approved “$350 million in security aid for Ukraine in its most recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), including $47 million for defensive lethal weapons.” Final approval is contingent on the successful completion of the 2018 budget process.
The Washington Post article cited above also reported that Russian officials rebuked the decision. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated that “U.S. weapons are capable of leading to new casualties in our neighboring country, and we cannot remain indifferent to that.”
The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin reported on December 20th that while the approval didn’t include everything the Ukrainians had asked for, it was a significant shift in the administration’s policy. A senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation observed that, ““The way it was not rolled out tells you something, that they are concerned about the perception of this. They are not trumpeting this as a major policy shift or signature policy priority,” presumably at least in part due to concern over how it will be received by the Kremlin.
A Ukrainian colleague of the Estonian American National Council (EANC) offered his assessment of the approval. He indicated he was happy with the decision, but noted that the approval was for arms sales, not necessarily grants. Without corresponding military financial aid, the Ukrainian budget would likely not allow for the purchase of the weapons. He also observed that fighting had subsided in recent weeks and that President Putin might intend to lead the Ukrainians to believe that the weapons aren’t even necessary.
This story is clearly still developing, and many opinions have already been and will likely continue to be expressed. EANC will continue to track it and keep its readership informed. In the meantime, we will support our Ukrainian partners in advocating for financial aid to support the purchase of weapons and hope for a lasting resolution to the Russian occupation of their territory.