There have been rumors, as I reported last week that the members of the administration were pushing for lethal defensive arms to be given to the Ukraine. This is not a popular view among our allies and would be a shift in policy for the administration. Obama has stated several times that he would be opposed to such steps. This stance becomes problematic for the U.S., who claims they support Ukraine’s right to defend itself.
Now, as the fighting has ramped up almost daily since early last month, the President said today that it was one of the options on the table.
The Washington time is reporting:
U.S. policymakers have proposed shipping defensive weapons such as antitank missiles, surveillance drones and advanced radar to the Ukrainian army. President Obama is considering it.
So then, while our allies are calling for more economic sanctions on Russia, our government is calling for military supplies.
“It is true that if in fact diplomacy fails, what I’ve asked my team to do is look at all options,” Obama said. “The possibility of lethal defensive weapons is one of those options that’s being examined.”
We have discussed the possibility of this developing into a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia. This would look much like what we saw during the Russian/Afghan war of the 1980’s. This would be a conflict in which we send equipment and train the Ukrainians to use it and the Russians do the same with the rebels. But, if Russia handles this Cold War anything like the old Cold War, they will not hesitate to send pilots with their jets.
Further, we have to ask what effect this will have on our relations with EU leaders? German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been unambiguous about Germany’s refusal to provide arms to Ukraine.
The question of whether to provide lethal military support to Ukraine represents a potential split between Obama and Merkel. The White House has said Obama is reconsidering his opposition to arming Ukraine given a recent surge in violence, while Merkel has adamantly opposed such steps. The U.S. and Europe have largely been in lockstep in their response to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, raising the prospect that the public divide on lethal aid was merely a tactic to push Russian President Vladimir Putin to accept a peace plan.
French leader Francois Hollande has also favored continued and stronger economic sanctions on Russia rather than the giving of military aid. He and Merkel will attend the summit in Minsk with Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. They will discuss ways to stop the fighting and seek a settlement.
But the President does not believe that such talks or economic sanctions will work.
He said it’s clear the Russians “violated just about every commitment they made” in a recent agreement. He added, “If Russia continues on its current course … Russia’s isolation will only worsen both politically and economically.”
It may be too little too late now, as the Russian supported rebels are making vast gains. The Ukrainians are outnumbered and out matched. An escalation might only widen the conflict. What is the difference if we are not willing to do what it takes to win in Ukraine?
If we are not going to do this wholeheartedly, then we need to stay out of it altogether.