Though perhaps a drop in the bucket when compared to the over $1 billion the US has already acknowledged providing Kiev since 2014, the Pentagon announced Friday afternoon that it will provide Ukraine with $200 million in security assistance which an official statement says will go toward "additional training, equipment and advisory efforts to build the defensive capacity of Ukraine’s forces."
The move's timing, however, is what is sure to have a greater symbolic impact as it came the same day the White House rejected Russian President Putin's proposed referendum for the contested separatist Donbas region in Eastern Ukraine. A spokesman for the White House National Security Council announced at the end of a week of intense media speculation as to the contents of Trump and Putin's closed door summit in Helsinki on Monday, "The administration is not considering supporting a referendum in the eastern Ukraine."
Even as Trump personally tweeted the summit was "a great success" and has expressed hope for warmer relations between the two nuclear armed powers, the Pentagon statement has thrown cold water on such optimism as it will surely be seen by Russia as an escalatory shot across the bow.
Crucially, the Pentagon announcement further contains this not so insignificant detail:
The security cooperation builds on Ukraine’s recent adoption of the Law on National Security. This law, which provides a legislative framework for aligning Ukraine’s national security architecture with Euro-Atlantic principles, constitutes a major step toward Ukraine’s goal of achieving NATO interoperability. The implementation of these reforms will bolster Ukraine’s ability to defend its territorial integrity in support of a secure and democratic Ukraine.
No doubt Pentagon press officers wrangled over just how they would phrase the line about "NATO interoperability" — sufficiently jolting to the Russians yet also sufficiently ambiguous enough to wriggle around the persistent Russian charge that the US policy is ultimately all about bringing Ukraine into the NATO fold.
Breaking: DoD shipping $200 million to Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/1RjXkRsyJ5— David B Larter (@DavidLarter) July 20, 2018
While "interoperability" can mean many things — for example Finland is officially non-aligned yet is what NATO affirms as among its "most active partners" — it will be sure to put US-Russian rhetoric back on the same belligerent path which marked relations prior to the Trump-Putin meeting.
As recently as Thursday, Putin told a gathering of Russian diplomats that any country looking to try and include Ukraine or Georgia in the NATO sphere of influence “should think of the possible consequences of this irresponsible policy” because Russia would “respond in kind to any aggressive steps that directly threaten Russian.”
Prior to that, on Tuesday, a day after the Helsinki summit, Russian defense spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that the Russian military is "ready to intensify contacts with the US colleagues in the General Staff and other available channels to discuss the extension of the START treaty, cooperation in Syria, as well as other issues of ensuring military security." However, General Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, at the end of this week quashed rumors of greater US-Russian cooperation in Syria.
But it appears cooperation in the other areas mentioned may have already been initiated, according to Russian reports of closed door diplomatic consultations related to implementing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) and the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty).
I got severely criticized by the Fake News Media for being too nice to President Putin. In the Old Days they would call it Diplomacy. If I was loud & vicious, I would have been criticized for being too tough. Remember when they said I was too tough with Chairman Kim? Hypocrites!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 20, 2018
The latest release of $200 million will ostensibly be for improving "Ukraine’s command-and-control, situational awareness systems, secure communications, military mobility, night vision and military medical treatment" as the Pentagon statement reads.
Meanwhile the usual hawks in Congress who've opposed Trump's meeting with his Russian counterpart were quick to hail the release of the defense funds: "This is good news, and it sends a clear message that America stands with the Ukrainian people in their struggle to secure a democratic, prosperous and independent future in the face of Russian aggression," Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio told CNN.
An official Russian response to the Pentagon announcement was not immediately forthcoming by the end of Friday or early Saturday.