US considering arming Ukraine to counter Russian aggression
Moscow says military support would worsen fighting that has killed 10,000 in three years
US soldiers march along Kiev’s Khreshchatyk Street during a military parade to celebrate Independence Day. Photograph: Efrem Lukatsky/AP
The United States is considering sending deadly weapons to Ukraine to help it resist Russian aggression, Pentagon chief James Mattis said on Thursday as he attended independence day celebrations in the war-scarred state.
The US defence secretary told Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko that Washington would maintain pressure on Moscow to end its undeclared war against his country, despite US president Donald Trump’s stated desire to improve relations with the Kremlin.
The White House is expected to consider proposals to send arms including anti-tank missiles to Kiev’s military, even though Moscow says such a move would only intensify fighting that has killed 10,000 people in eastern Ukraine in the last three years.
Former US president Barack Obama agreed with Germany that provision of deadly weapons to Ukraine could prompt Russia to launch a deeper incursion into Ukraine alongside its proxy separatist forces, and so he limited US military aid to Ukraine to non-lethal items such as night-vision gear and radar.
Mr Mattis rejected that argument on Thursday, however, raising Kiev’s hopes the Pentagon may soon add powerful arms to the $750 million (€636 million) in supplies it has given to Ukraine’s armed forces since its pro-western revolution in 2014.
“On the defensive lethal weapons, we are actively reviewing it, 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,” Mr Mattis said.
“Defensive weapons are not provocative unless you are an aggressor and clearly Ukraine is not an aggressor since it is their own territory where the fighting is happening.”
“Despite Russia’s denials, we know they are seeking to redraw international borders by force, undermining the sovereign and free nations of Europe, ” Mr Mattis added.
Mr Poroshenko thanked Mr Mattis for reiterating Washington’s refusal to accept Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, and said that separatist forces controlling part of eastern Ukraine amounted to about 39,000 fighters, including some 3,000 serving Russian soldiers. The Kremlin denies such claims.
The Ukrainian president also advocated deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping mission to the war zone, saying that “such an international presence would help create the necessary security conditions to move forward on the political track of the peace process”.
Despite a supposed ceasefire, nightly shelling continues to kill and injure civilians and soldiers near the frontline in Ukraine’s industrial Donbas region.
A new attempt to launch a truce was announced this week, to try to improve the parlous security situation ahead of the start of the new school year.
In Kiev, at least two people were injured in an explosion close to government headquarters as independence day events wound down. None of the official delegations were involved in the incident.
Soldiers from the US, Britain, Canada, Poland and other Nato states took part in a parade through the Ukrainian capital, in a strongly symbolic show of support for a country trying to integrate with the West after centuries of Russian domination.