- - Thursday, December 28, 2017


The Trump administration’s decision to supply Ukraine with defensive weapons is a decision fraught with implications that reach far beyond the dispatch of weapons. The future of Ukraine, the onetime Soviet state, has hung in the balance since Russian President Vladimir Putin moved against Ukraine in 2014.

The seizure of Crimea, which had been Ukrainian territory since 1954, was reminiscent of rapacious European aggression that set off two world wars. The continued sponsorship by Moscow of anti-Kiev rebels in eastern Ukraine has confirmed the worst suspicions about Russia’s eventual intentions. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has made no secret that restoration of the Russian empire is his most cherished aim. “The collapse of the Soviet Union,” he has said on more than one occasion, “was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”

Meeting the challenge of the Russian intimidation of Ukraine requires such weapons as the United States has now promised, like the American Javelin antitank artillery, capable of destroying advanced Russian tanks that would lead an invading force. The U.S. State Department said Washington would provide Ukraine with “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 spokesman said U.S. assistance is entirely defensive, that “Ukraine is a sovereign country and has a right to defend itself.”

Several members of Congress had called for helping Ukraine. Following the State Department announcement, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged President Trump to authorize additional sales of defensive lethal weapons, including anti-tank munitions to Ukraine. “Vladimir Putin has chosen war instead of peace in Ukraine,” he said. “So long as he makes this choice, the United States and the free world should give Ukraine what it needs to fight back.”

The Russians, as expected, countered quickly. The American decision to supply Ukraine with weapons meant the United States “is clearly pushing [Ukraine] to new bloodshed,” said a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry. She accused the United States and Canada of making false claims about the conflict in Ukraine as a “pretext to begin large-scale lethal weapons deliveries to Ukraine. American weapons can lead to new victims in our neighboring country, to which we cannot remain indifferent.”

The United States, she said, had crossed the line, accusing it of “fueling the war” rather than acting as honest intermediary. Some U.S. officials expected Russia to use the American dispatch of arms as a pretext to take further action in Ukraine. The flare-up comes amid a recent rush of clashes between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian-backed separatists in the week the Trump administration further said it would permit sales of some smaller arms to Ukraine.

Perhaps as important as the direct assistance to the government in Kiev is the sign of support of the network of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which is important to meeting the Russian reinforcement of Russia’s western borders. Ukraine gets a little needed reassurance that it does not stand alone.

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