The administration of US President Donald Trump has signed off on the first delivery of lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine as part of $350mn in military aid earmarked for Ukraine, reports the Voice Of America.
“All the hysteria generated by the Western establishment media, as well as the Ukrainian mass media, about a Trump presidency being the end of US support for Ukraine has proven hollow,” said Zenon Zawada, an analyst with Concorde Capital. “Not only has Trump maintained all the measures imposed by his predecessor against Russia, but he has approved the expansion of sanctions, as well as the first lethal defensive weapons that Ukraine had been clamouring for.”
Kyiv has been pushing for more powerful weapons from the US since 2014 to use in its campaign against the separatist Donbas region, where rebels are receiving support from regular Russian army troops, according to multiple reports. In particular, Kyiv wants the Javelin tank-busting hand-held missiles as Russia has reportedly sent motorised armour into the conflict theatre in Donbas.
“Send us weapons, including lethal weapons, not blankets,” President Petro Poroshenko famously told Congress in an address in 2015. The Obama administration was very reluctant to supply Ukraine with anything more than defensive weapons, afraid of provoking an escalation with Russia that could lead to open warfare between the US and Russia.
As part of the new package, the US has also authorised assistance to bolster Ukraine’s naval capabilities for the first time, which were severely reduced following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea peninsular in 2014.
The specific weapons to be disbursed include air and coastal defence radars, naval mine and counter-mine capabilities, and littoral and coastal defence craft, according to a statement by US Senator Rob Portman and founder of the Ukraine Senate Caucus. “These additions reflect the Ukrainian military’s most pressing needs that have not been covered under previous authorisations, such as anti-tank weapons, secure communications and counter-artillery radar,” the statement said.
In addition the US aid will also be used to transport Ukrainian soldiers to US hospitals and pay for their rehabilitation, teach Ukrainian medics rehabilitation methods, as well as “improving the capabilities of our country’s air and naval forces”, Voice of America said, citing the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington.
“Reports so far haven’t confirmed whether the much-discussed Javelin anti-tank missiles will be part of the aid offered by the US but Senator Portman’s statement indicates it’s quite possible and it won’t be a precedent. US companies are already supplying the Ukrainian military with armaments,” Concorde Capital’s Zawada said
The appearance of US lethal defensive weapons in the conflict zone raises the risk of Russia responding with escalated military aggression in Donbas.
“Although the conventional wisdom in Washington is that Russia will back down in the event of an expensive, escalating arms race, the events of recent years show that the Putin administration will go to extreme lengths to ensure this territory returns to the Russian sphere,” says Zawada.
“Or at minimum, the Russians are committed to ensuring that this territory is never integrated into Euro-Atlantic structures, which they see as a security threat of the highest order. So we don’t see the introduction of lethal, defensive weapons from the US as being conducive for peace, nor in pressuring the Russians to surrender in this conflict.”