WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 - After months of internal debate, the Trump administration is stalled on the question of whether to provide Ukraine with the defensive weapons it has long asked for, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.
The de facto result has been to continue the Obama administration’s policy of denying Kiev what it needs to resist ongoing Russian aggression — and sharpen doubts about President Trump’s willingness to stand up to Vladi¬mir Putin.
National Security Council officials insist the administration is slowly but surely working through whether to provide Ukrainian security forces with the capability to respond to Russia’s infiltration of tanks, artillery and other equipment into occupied parts of eastern Ukraine.
A meeting of the council’s principals committee, which includes Cabinet secretaries, was held on the issue several weeks ago. Now officials are formalizing a set of options to present to Trump, a senior security council official said, according to the Washington Post.
Trump’s pending decision will have implications far beyond the Donbas region. The Ukrainian government warns that even though fighting has recently tapered off there, Moscow is still working to change facts on the ground. But “this is not only about the weapons, this is about the political signal,” said Artur Gerasymov, a leading Ukrainian member of parliament in President Petro Poroshenko’s party.
“If the United States as leader of the free world will not help us stop this,” Gerasymov said, “it is only a question of time who will be next.”
Of course, the United States already provides Ukraine with a range of military-related items, including armored vehicles, medical supplies and night-vision goggles. But for years, Ukraine’s government has pleaded with Washington for items that can counter Russia’s armor, artillery and aircraft.
The United States has refused to provide Javelin antitank missiles, anti-battery radar that can see into Russian territory, and state-of-the-art intelligence capabilities and communications gear.
During President Barack Obama’s time, there was a push by top State Department and U.S. military officials, supported by both parties in Congress, to change that policy. But the Obama White House delayed until it became clear the foot-dragging was a decision not to act.
In 2015, the House voted 348 to 48 to pass a resolution urging Obama to provide Ukraine with defensive weapon systems. The measure was sponsored by Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s ranking Democrat, who told me Trump needs to make a decision now.
“I’ve supported providing Ukraine with defensive weapons for years,” Engel said. “But we’ve failed to act, demoralizing the Ukrainians and signaling weakness to Putin. It’s time for the administration to quit dithering and show whose side we’re really on.”
The Trump administration’s Ukraine policy is centered on reinvigorating the Minsk process, which requires Russia to honor a cease-fire, remove its heavy weapons from Ukrainian territory and respect the border. Putin is doing none of these things. The Trump administration appointed former U.S. ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker to pursue progress on implementing Minsk, but so far there has been none. (wp/ez)