A battle is brewing in Washington over the conflict in Ukraine. Should the U.S. give weapons to Ukraine so it can defend itself against Russian-backed separatists?
This week, the tide has turned toward yes, as Democratic lawmakers are urging President Barack Obama to arm the Ukrainians. After returning from the Munich Security Conference in Germany, Democrat Adam Smith will present a bill that would put further pressure on Obama to arm the Ukrainian government.
"They need the weapons, they need them soon, and they need them quick. Our credibility is on the line, and what’s right is on the line,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, a top-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “I’ll be satisfied when the president this week, hopefully, announces that we’re going to be giving the Ukrainians defensive armaments.”
On Feb. 5, reports the Daily Beast, 30 House lawmakers wrote a letter to the White House in support of arming the Ukrainians. Republicans have been in favor of arming Ukraine for almost a year.
In the past few weeks, violence has escalated as the separatists continue to attack and gain more land. Since September, they have gained approximately 500 square miles and killed at least 5,300 people. Around 1.5 million Ukrainians have been displaced.
“Ukrainians are being slaughtered and we have a role to play in imposing restraint," Rep. Richard Blumenthal said. "We need to see that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin understands nothing but force. He is a thug, he has not responded to sanctions.”
In response, the U.S. has said it would give $120 million in non-lethal aid. But Congress is pushing the White House to do more, unanimously agreeing to pledge $350 million in defense weapons, including anti-tank weapons, ammunition and radar technology.
“The feedback we are getting is (lethal defensive aid) is really a bipartisan issue,” said Pavel Yarmolenko, a spokesman for the Ukraine Freedom Support Group. “It seems that people really understand that unless there is pushback against aggression by Russia, this could undermine not just Ukrainian sovereignty but also NATO.”
France and Germany have been opposed to sending more weapons, wanting the sanctions on Russia to take their toll. If the U.S. arms Ukraine, it would be a major disagreement with its allies. Obama knows this and is still undecided.
“The possibility of lethal defensive weapons is one of those options that’s being examined. But I have not made a decision about that yet,” Obama said. “If, in fact, diplomacy fails this week, there’s going to continue to be a strong, unified response between the U.S. and Europe."
Source: The Daily Beast / Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons