The Pentagon has drawn up plans to supply weapons to Ukraine in its fight against Russian-backed rebels, and now seeks White House approval for the move. President Trump has yet to be briefed on the proposal, but he will face a tough choice – either further angering an already irate Kremlin or falling out with his own generals.
According to officials in the State Department and the Pentagon who spoke to the Wall Street Journal, the plan – backed by Secretary of Defense James Mattis – would see the U.S. send anti-tank, and possibly anti-aircraft, missiles to Ukraine as a deterrent against further aggression by Russian-backed separatists. Other weapons would also be made available.
The Javelin anti-tank missiles are much sought after by the Ukrainian forces, given that Russia has more tanks in the disputed territory than there are in the rest of western Europe.
Kurt Volker, new U.S. special representative for Ukraine, gave an interview on July 25, where he revealed that arming Ukrainian forces was an option being considered, claiming that the move would not antagonize Russia, but instead stop them trying to capture any new territory.
The officials speaking to the Wall Street Journal said that the anti-tank missiles, if deployed, would be given to troops stationed away from the front lines of the conflict in an effort to diffuse tension. Responding to Volker’s recent comments, the Kremlin said sending weapons to Ukraine would “whip up tension at the disengagement line and generally provoke an already uneasy situation.”
If Donald Trump sides with his generals and approves the plan, he risks further alienating the Kremlin at a time when relations are already deteriorating. On the other hand, if he doesn’t approve the plan, he risks angering his generals and bringing further scrutiny of his connections with Russia just as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation expands in scope.