On Friday, the State Department announced its approval of a shipment of weapons to Ukraine. President Trump had been considering the move for some time after the Pentagon and State Department signaled their approval earlier this year.
The weapons are meant to help the Ukrainian government in its fight against Russian-backed separatists, and Washington’s willingness to help Kiev could inhibit efforts to work with Russia on North Korea and Afghanistan.
The $47 million shipment is rumored to include anti-tank missiles, which are viewed as critical in defending against the separatists’ armored vehicles; US officials insist vehicles are supplied by Russia.
Assistance to Ukraine is “entirely defensive in nature,” said the State Department “and as we have always said, Ukraine is a sovereign country and has a right to defend itself.”
Previous assistance from the US has included training and support equipment, but nothing approaching the level of the weapons recently approved by the Trump Administration.
Kiev responded to the announcement with gratitude. “American weapons in the hands of Ukrainian soldiers are not for offensive [purposes], but for stronger rebuff of the aggressor, protection of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians, as well as for effective self-defense,” said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Kiev has been fighting the separatists since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea – a move condemned by many countries as a violation of international law. The move earned sanctions from the United States, and President Trump has insisted these sanctions will remain in place until Moscow abandons Crimea.
“President Trump’s reported decision to provide Javelin anti-tank munitions to Ukraine marks another significant step in the right direction and sends a strong signal that the United States will stand by its allies and partners as they fight to defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Senator John McCain (R-AZ). “As I have long argued, providing defensive lethal assistance to Ukraine is not opposed to peace in Ukraine – it is essential to achieving it.”
Russian authorities condemned the weapons shipment, with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov going so far as to say the US is “an accomplice in fueling a war.”
“American weapons can lead to new victims in our neighboring country, to which we cannot remain indifferent,” said Ryabkov. “The United States in a certain sense had crossed the line.”
Meanwhile, the fighting in Ukraine is up about 60% compared to last year. “It stands as the single most difficult obstacle to us renormalizing the relationship with Russia, which we badly would like to do,” laments Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
On Wednesday, the Trump Administration announced it would permit sales of small arms to Ukraine from US manufacturers.