The Obama administration is withholding urgently needed military equipment from Ukraine, including night-vision goggles, based on a restrictive definition of “nonlethal” aid, according to a bipartisan assessment of Ukraine’s military needs.
According to a report by two high-level American military observers, the U.S. also turned down Ukraine’s request for such other goods as body armor, radios and jet fuel based on policy restrictions that define that equipment as destabilizing “force multipliers.”
Kiev’s urgent requests for military aid short of major weapons were turned down as “provocative” based on confusing criteria about “force multiplier” goods, the report said.
“Independent of American high-level policy, implementation of U.S. non-lethal military aid is seriously flawed and needs immediate correction,” states the report by retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark and former arms control official Phillip A. Karber after a visit to military units in Ukraine.
The report said the confusing “force multiplier” rule should be replaced with a clear policy barring lethal weapons and ammunition such as tanks and missiles while allowing shipments of nonlethal gear, with a priority on vests, goggles, radios and fuel.
U.S. officials have said the limitations on Ukraine aid are part of the administration’s conciliatory policy of seeking to avoid upsetting relations with Moscow.
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The administration believes sending needed nonlethal military aid will be viewed as a provocation and prompt Moscow to invade and seize a land bridge in Ukraine as a supply route between Crimea and Russia, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
Additionally, deliveries of aid are being harmed by bureaucratic bottlenecks as the Pentagon faces severe budget cuts while struggling to maintain its own forces, the report said.
The U.S. announced weeks ago that it would supply Ukrainian forces with sleeping bags, meals ready to eat, and diesel fuel used for tanks. However, the deliveries were delayed when the Pentagon decided to ship the goods by truck instead of aircraft.
“The administration needs to immediately appoint a high-level official with military experience and a ‘get it done’ attitude — armed with presidential authority — to cut across bureaucracy and insure prioritization and timely delivery of all non-lethal military assistance it is possible for the U.S. to provide to Ukraine,” the report said.
The report is significant for its bipartisanship. Mr. Clark is a former Democratic presidential primary candidate and a retired four-star NATO commander. Mr. Karber was a strategy adviser to Reagan administration Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.
The three-page situation report was sent to Congress and the White House. A copy was obtained from a congressional aide.
“The Ukrainians need more than food and kind words of support, and we should be doing more than just responding to Russia’s propaganda lies,” said a Senate aide. “The Ukrainians need substantive support and we should help provide the basic equipment they need to defend themselves like ammunition, body armor, and intelligence.”
The report is the first of three bipartisan field reports by the two former officials. Future reports will outline military options for deterring aggression against Ukraine and for possible Western responses to any Russian invasion and/or an extended Ukrainian insurgency in that event.
Mr. Clark and Mr. Karber traveled to Ukraine this month at the request of the government in Kiev, which asked them to assess the country’s military needs.
Russia has massed 40,000 to 80,000 troops in two echelons along Ukraine’s eastern border. The administration and U.S. lawmakers also have accused Russia of sending agents to foment unrest throughout Ukraine to create the pretext for a military invasion.
Large numbers of Russian military forces also are threatening Ukraine from the southern Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed last month, and near Ukraine’s western borders with Belarus and Moldova.
Ukraine has eight brigades: 20,000 to 32,000 troops in the eastern part of the country and a similar number in the west. It is outnumbered by a troop ratio of 2.5-to-1.
“Ukraine is facing serious military threats on a 300-degree arc from the territories of [Belarus], Russia, occupied Crimea, the Black Sea and Transneister [Moldova],” the report said, noting that the 1,000-mile front is three times longer than Ukraine’s armed forces are equipped to defend.
Mr. Clark and Mr. Karber said in the report that despite shortages of aging military gear, the Ukrainian army is nearing completion of the largest peacetime mobilization in Europe since the end of World War II.
“They are digging in and are preparing to fight,” Mr. Karber said in an interview.
Mr. Karber said that if Russia invades, 5 million to 20 million Ukrainians — up to nearly half the population — are set to flee westward. Ukrainians also are preparing for insurgency warfare against a Russian occupation, he said.
For Ukraine to conduct a sustained military defense against Russia, its military needs air defenses and anti-armor weapons from nearby states, the report said.
“However, the most important assistance currently needed to make the existing Ukrainian force as defensible as possible in the current crisis (between now and the elections of 25 May) is non-lethal equipment from the U.S.,” the report states.
Body armor capable of stopping sniper rounds is an urgent need as Russian snipers and military agents are targeting officers in long-range assassinations. Current Ukrainian body armor is in very short supply and not capable of stopping sniper fire.
Night-vision goggles also are an urgent need to counter nighttime military infiltration routes.
“Again this is a technology routinely available to the Russian army and if it is provocative, then that provocation needs to be answered with [a] symmetric response,” the report said.
The Ukrainians also urgently need U.S. digital satellite radios for communications among units operating along the long front. Current Soviet-era analog military communications gear is inadequate and “will likely be taken down in the initial hours of conflict,” the report said.
Under the restrictive “force multiplier” ban, the satellite radios supplied to some Ukrainian troops who fought with U.S. forces during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts cannot be sent to additional units.
For Ukraine’s small air force, aviation fuel is a fourth urgent requirement. Helicopters needed for surveillance of the borders are being grounded to save fuel for the anticipated conflict.
“The U.S. ban on aviation fuel as a ‘force multiplier’ is blatantly ridiculous at a time that Russian aircraft and UAVs are routinely flying the Ukrainian border within minutes of target,” the report said. “Again, to respond to aggressive provocation is not provocative — indeed, unanswered it incentivizes continued provocation.”
The report concludes that in addition to military aid, the Ukrainians need U.S. military advice.
“As the crisis deepens, Ukraine needs a seasoned professional American military and national security advice to assist them in making prudent and wise decisions,” the report says. “If this cannot be provided by active military and civilian professionals, plans should be made to bring in retired senior people to help.”
Three House Armed Services Committee leaders, Reps. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, Michael R. Turner of Ohio, and Mike Rogers of Alabama recently introduced legislation that would boost Ukraine’s defenses.
Mr. McKeon is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Mr. Turner and Mr. Rogers each serve as chairman of one of its subcommittees.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said Sunday that the U.S. needs to supply Ukraine with weapons.
“We ought to at least, for God’s sake, give them some light weapons with which to defend themselves,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.
“So far, this administration’s not done that, but they won’t even share some intelligence with the Ukrainian government,” he said. “I can tell you from my conversations with people in the government, they feel abandoned by us, and rightfully so. This is shameful.”
White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Monday “we don’t have any announcements to make today” on military aid to Ukraine.
“Our main focus continues to be on supporting economic and diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the situation,” she said. “And as the president said, we do not see a military solution to crisis.”
A Pentagon spokeswoman, Eileen Lainez, said a variety of requests for military assistance are being reviewed together with the State Department.