US to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons to deter ‘aggression’
The US plans to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons and enhanced military capabilities amid rising tensions in the country’s east, which has been the scene of deadly fighting between Kiev’s troops and pro-Russia forces.
“The United States has decided to provide Ukraine enhanced defensive capabilities as part of our effort to help Ukraine build its long-term defense capacity, to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to deter further aggression,” the State Department said in a statement on Friday.
“US assistance is entirely defensive in nature, and as we have always said, Ukraine is a sovereign country and has a right to defend itself. The United States remains committed to the Minsk agreements as the way forward in eastern Ukraine,” it added, referring to the ceasefire deals signed in 2014 and 2015.
The statement did not specify the capabilities being considered for supply to Ukraine, but earlier in the day, US media reported that Washington had planned to approve the sale of anti-tank missiles to the Eastern European country, including the advanced Javelin system.
“The total defense package of $47 million includes the sale of 210 anti-tank missiles and 35 launchers. Additional supplies will need to be purchased,” an ABC News report said.
The reports came just days after the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which monitors the implementation of the peace accords in eastern Ukraine, reported a sharp rise in ceasefire violations there.
On Thursday, Russia also warned the US about the consequences of supplying arms to Ukraine, saying that the weapons would provoke “hotheads” among Ukrainian nationalists to seek to unleash new bloodshed in the country’s troubled east.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had also warned in September that any decision by his US counterpart, Donald Trump, to supply weapons to Kiev would fuel the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has pits Kiev’s troops against pro-Moscow forces there.
The former US administration had refused to supply Kiev with lethal weaponry and, instead, provided Kiev with $600 million in military assistance, including training, equipment and advice.
The armed conflict erupted in Ukraine following the overthrow of pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, in February 2014 and intensified after people in the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea voted for reunification with the Russian Federation in a referendum in March 2014.
The West brands the reunification as annexation of the territory by Russia. The US and its allies in Europe also accuse the Kremlin of having a major hand in the crisis in eastern Ukraine, an allegation denied by Moscow.
The pro-Russians have turned the two regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in the east — collectively known as the Donbass — into self-proclaimed republics. The crisis has left over 10,000 people dead and more than a million others displaced, according to the United Nations.
In September 2014, the government in Kiev and the pro-Russia forces signed a ceasefire agreement in the Belarusian capital city of Minsk in a bid to halt the fighting in Ukraine’s eastern regions.
The warring sides also inked another truce deal, dubbed Minsk II, in February 2015 under the supervision of Russia, Germany, and France.
Since then, however, sporadic fighting has occurred, with the parties blaming each other for initiating the violations.