In recent weeks, reports have emerged that the Pentagon and the State Department have drawn up plans to send what are invariably (and misleadingly) referred to as “defensive” weapons to Ukraine. President Trump’s newly appointed special representative for Ukraine, Ambassador Kurt Volker, said the administration is considering sending anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to front-line Ukrainian forces in the Donbass [eastern Ukraine] to enable our ally to “defend itself if Russia were to take further steps against Ukrainian territory.”
The National Security Task Force of the Friends of Ukraine Network, a bipartisan coalition of former government officials, including former NATO supreme allied commanders Philip Breedlove and Wesley Clark, have called for the Trump administration to send tanks and drones to Ukraine, in order to, in the words of one member, “increase the pressure on Russia to negotiate seriously on implementing the Minsk agreements.”
The renewed calls to send weapons to Ukraine recall the early months of 2015 when there was a concerted push to arm Ukraine from the foreign-policy establishment, including President Obama’s own appointees at the Pentagon and State Department—in conjunction with scholars from the Brookings Institution, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and the Atlantic Council—in order to both undermine the second round of the Minsk cease-fire agreement (which was being negotiated at that time) and to stave off what became a military debacle for Kiev at Debaltseve.
Yet, in one of his rare departures from what he derisively called the US foreign-policy establishment “blob,” President Obama resolutely refused to send “defensive” weapons to Kiev, though he did sign on to the creation of multinational military training base in western Ukraine at Yaroviv. (In this context it is worth noting that the 2015 Brookings-Atlantic Council plan to arm Ukraine was opposed by, among others, Brookings Russia scholar Fiona Hill, who now serves as Trump’s lead Russia adviser on the NSC.)
Then as now, arguments for arming Ukraine are based on disingenuous interpretations of past agreements and an equally reckless disregard for the present circumstances.
There is a real danger that the introduction of US arms could be the end of the Minsk II cease-fire agreement and could derail the latest push by Moscow to introduce UN peacekeepers to the region.
Of last week’s proposal by Russia to send UN peacekeepers to patrol the front line, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that “this offer of a UN mission in eastern Ukraine shows that Russia has effected a change in its policies that we should not gamble away.”