Obama Administration: No Lethal Military Aid For Ukraine

Ukrainian security personnel guard the entrance of a government building in Mariupol on Wednesday. (GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian security personnel guard the entrance of a government building in Mariupol on Wednesday. (GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)

To borrow one of President Obama’s favorite phrases, let me be clear: The United States government will not be sending offensive, or lethal, military equipment to Ukraine to assist in its standoff with Russia. That much became crystal clear on Tuesday.

In the waning moments of a late-afternoon Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Ukraine-Russia showdown, a U.S. defense official stated in perhaps the bluntest manner yet that the Obama administration is opposed to sending weapons to Ukraine’s military.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., was pressing Evelyn Farkas, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia, on why the administration has so far opted to only provide the government in Kiev with non-lethal military aid.

Think explosive ordnance disposal gear, radios, vehicles (the kind without mounted, large-caliber guns), and Meals Ready to Eat (MREs). Don’t think machine guns, anti-tank weapons or ammunition.

Farkas told Johnson that Ukrainian officials came to Pentagon officials with a list of things their forces need. At the top, she said, “they prioritized it for us. And frankly, they did prioritize non-lethal, a lot of non-lethal assistance.”

Johnson was ready for that, and shot back with this savvy retort:

“That’s because when we were there, the prime minister specifically said he’s not going to ask for something that he knows will be refused. So, if he — if he knows it’s going to be refused, he’s not going to ask for it. If you were in that position, what type of lethal weaponry do you think Ukraine needs to change Putin’s calculus? Anti-tank weapons? I mean, what — what might actually work?”

Then Farkas decided it was time to, as her boss might say, be clear:

“Frankly, it’s not the military balance that’s going to change the calculus for President Putin. He will know that it will be bloody if he chooses to intervene militarily in Ukraine. Make no mistake, it will be bloody and it will be a disaster tactically and certainly strategically. So I think that adding more military — lethal military equipment into the equation, into the balance, isn’t going to change things.”

Let me be clear: Unless Putin begins invading former Soviet-era republics willy nilly, there will be no “Ukraine bonus” any time soon for US defense firms.

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
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