Well, it's finally official - after years of preparation by the Obama administration to provide lethal offensive weapons to Ukraine over the vocal objections of the Kremlin, today the Trump administration announced it would sell Ukraine 210 Javelin anti-aircraft missiles and 37 launchers for $47 million. The sale, which was first reported last December, marks a significant increase in U.S. military support for Ukraine and another major deterioration US-Russian relations, and is the first lethal weapons sale of its kind since the breakout of a Russian-backed proxy civil war against the central government in Ukraine's eastern provinces.
As discussed previously, President Trump approved the plan in the days just before Christmas 2017, and began informal notifications with Congress about it. With Thursday's formal notification, Congress now has 30 days to sink the deal or it will go through, which is expected.
Trump has said the sale represents evidence of his "tougher" stance on Russia than President Barack Obama's, although according to ABC, the Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations sought to downplay the significance on Monday.
"There is what I view as an artificial distinction between lethal and non-lethal military equipment," Ambassador Kurt Volker said in Washington on Monday, comparing anti-tank missiles to a counter-battery radar that improves targeting to attack and kill an enemy firing mortars. "That's non-lethal and an anti-tank missile, which sits in a box and doesn’t get used unless you have a tank coming at you, is lethal. Both are clearly defensive weapons."
Moscow may disagree, especially since sale is intended to boost Ukrainian military forces as they continue to fight Russian-backed separatists, while U.S. officials argue the U.S. is only supporting Ukraine's right to self-defense.
"The Javelin system will help Ukraine build its long-term defense capacity to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity in order to meet its national defense requirements," the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement Thursday. U.S. personnel will travel to Ukraine to train their military on its use, the agency added.
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While Russia has not yet commented on the official notification, Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, responded harshly in December when news of the sale first broke.
"The United States in a certain sense crossed the line, announcing the intention to transfer weapons of direct damaging action to Ukraine," the statement said, translated from Russian. "American weapons can lead to new victims in our neighboring country, to which we cannot remain indifferent."
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said then that the sale "will once again motivate the hotheads" in the Ukrainian government and "unleash bloodshed again."
Trump's approval of the arms deal was a major shift from the Republican party platform, which was amended when Trump was the party's nominee for president, from supporting "lethal defensive arms" to Ukraine to the more vague "appropriate assistance” — language that ran counter to traditional Republican foreign policy.
Needless to say, Trump himself promised a reset with Russia, but since taking office, relations with Moscow have not improved.
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So is this a deep state victory? The Washington Post previously described that "the decision over whether to allow lethal arms sales to Ukraine had been sitting on Trump’s desk for months" even after The National Security Council presented the president with various options for moving forward "months ago". But concerning the impetus behind internal White House deliberations to move on the issue, the Washington Post reported:
Another senior Trump administration official said that Trump personally approved the decision to allow the issuing of the license after being presented a decision memo by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. While there was never a formal ban on such weapons transfers, the decision was discussed internally as a lifting of the de facto Obama administration restrictions, the official said.
Congressional anti-Russia hawks have long sought greater long-term military engagement along Russia's European border, especially after the May 2014 referendum which saw the pro-Russian Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk declare independence from Kiev. And though Congress originally authorized weapons sales via the Ukraine Freedom Support Act signed into law in December 2014, the Obama administration never made the decision to actually follow through on the legislation.
Almost as if Obama "had more flexibility" with Putin than even Trump, who allegedly is only president thanks to Russia...
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 neocon hawks like McCain, Cotton, and Corker are finally getting their way.
Perhaps more scary in terms of escalating an unnecessary war which has already taken more than 10,000 lives since 2014, the Kiev government and some in Washington are already pushing for putting anti-aircraft weapons in the hands of Ukrainian forces.
“What we are awaiting and have called for is the provision of lethal defense weapons that are more advanced - a larger package that is under consideration right now, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles,” a Ukrainian official told ABC News. “We are expecting this decision and would welcome it.”
And as multiple reports have noted in recent weeks, fighting in eastern Ukraine is heating up after a period of relative stalemate and calm, and after general Western media silence on the war. Likely with the announcement of US supplied anti-tank missiles and the additional possibility of US anti-aircraft weapons being openly shipped into the conflict, it will most certainly return to the international and media spotlight.