- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 23, 2017

The U.S. will provide Ukraine with defensive capabilities meant to counter Russia-backed separatists, the State Department said Friday, including long-sought lethal anti-tank weaponry, according to multiple news reports.

Officially the State Department said the U.S. will offer 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 “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 State Department said Friday.

But officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the capabilities being offered include potential lethal weaponry, signaling an escalation with respect to Washington’s willingness to back Kiev’s ongoing battle against pro-Russian rebel nearly four years since the bloodshed began.

Among the weapons being sent to Ukraine are deadly American-made Javelin anti-tank missiles, The Associated Press and CNN reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials.

The U.S. has previously provided Ukraine with support equipment and training, and earlier this week President Trump announced it would let U.S. weapons makers sell small arms to the former Soviet state. Neither the Obama nor Trump administration authorized sending anything along the lines of lethal anti-tank missiles until now, however, notwithstanding calls from Kiev for additional assistance defending against the separatists.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and a pro-Moscow insurgency attempted to seize control in eastern Ukraine after the country’s former president, Kremlin ally Viktor Yanukovych, was removed from office in early 2014. Violence has lingered there ever since, and the skirmishes claimed roughly 10,000 lives in their first three years, the United Nations announced previously.

Washington’s reported authorization of lethal weaponry to Kiev was applauded in the U.S. by lawmakers critical of Moscow’s activities and predictably condemned by Russian authorities.

“President Trump’s reported decision to provide Javelin anti-tank munitions to Ukraine marks another significant step in the right direction and sends a strong signal that the United States will stand by its allies and partners as they fight to defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said Saturday. “I have long argued, providing defensive lethal assistance to Ukraine is not opposed to a peace in Ukraine — it is essential to achieving it.”

Russia’s deputy foreign minster, meanwhile, said the Trump administration has “crossed a line,” the AP reported Saturday.

“Washington has sought to cast itself as a ‘mediator,’” Sergei Ryabkov said a statement. “It’s not a mediator. It’s an accomplice in fueling a war.”

Violence in Ukraine is up about 60 percent in 2017 compared to last year, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this week.

“It stands as the single most difficult obstacle to us renormalizing the relationship with Russia, which we badly would like to do,” Mr. Tillerson said.

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