Russia has reacted fiercely to the end of week breaking news that President Trump plans to approve the legal sale of US antitank missiles and possibly other advanced systems to the Ukrainian government in a move that could change the battlefield calculus of the war between Ukrainian and Russian-aligned forces in the Donbass region along the Russian border. ABC News described the "total defense package of $47 million includes the sale of 210 anti-tank missiles and 35 launchers" which will be sure to harm Trump's longtime stated goal of improving relations with Moscow.
Though Kiev has long had limited access to US lethal arms through private contracts with American and international arms producers, this represents a significant escalation involving the likelihood that advanced US systems would be used directly on Russian-aligned militias in the eastern Donbass region and potentially Russian forces along the border. Up until now, the White House has been reluctant to escalate the war so openly, as it did when it supplied anti-Assad fighters in Syria with sophisticated TOW anti-tank missiles.
While the US State Department claims the move is "defensive" in nature, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov charged the US with deliberately "crossing the line" and pushing the Ukrainian authorities "towards new bloodshed," adding that "American weapons can lead to new victims".
"Kiev revanchists are shooting at Donbass every day, they don't want to conduct peace negotiations and dream of doing away with the disobedient population. And the United States has decided to give them weapons to do that," Ryabkov said. He further slammed the US as an "accomplice in igniting a war" whose political leadership is “blinded by Russophobia and eagerly applaud the Ukrainian nationalist punitive battalions.”
Indeed a number of outspoken Russia hawks in Congress were enthusiastic over the possibility of heavier and direct arms flow to Ukraine, including John McCain, Bob Corker, and Tom Cotton - all supporters of the original Ukraine Freedom Support Act signed into law by President Obama in December 2014, though never fully enacted.
So you're telling me Putin ordered his puppet Trump to arm Ukrainians that are hostile to Putin?— Serge (@Zinvor) December 23, 2017
This is some crazy 5th dimensional chess. https://t.co/AH4Ma9YShs
Cotton for example - recently rumored to be Trump's pick for CIA Director - said of the new initiative for arms exports to Ukraine: "This is a break from failed Obama era policies to make Russia pay a cost for its aggression. With this decision, the Trump administration is reminding Vladimir Putin and his cronies that they lost the Cold War, and we won’t tolerate their bullying of our friend Ukraine."
But Russian leaders have warned that through the decision the US may be dragged deeper into a quagmire which could result in direct confrontation with pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine's east. Aleksey Pushkov, member of the Russian Senate security committee, told RT News that delivery of the more advanced systems like the Army's M-148 Javelin Portable Anti-Tank Missile would require US military advisers on the ground, which could be targeted by separatist forces.
Pushkov told RT, the US “has enough problems already to allow itself to be involved in adventures of the [Ukrainian] regime. And we know too well how adventurous Kiev may be.” This comes as authorities in Kiev are already requesting that Washington adds anti-aircraft missiles to its shopping list as well, according to multiple reports.
Meanwhile German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron issued a statement calling for "disengagement and the withdrawal of heavy weapons" in the Ukrainian conflict, a scenario now much further away from taking shape than ever. But after years of covert American involvement in the Ukrainian proxy and civil war which has raged since 2014 - and which a leaked recording confirmed was precipitated by the US State Department - it appears that hawks like McCain, Cotton, and Corker are finally getting their way.