The Obama administration must stop the handwringing that has characterized the president’s foreign policy and immediately provide lethal military assistance to Ukraine. After failing for nearly a year to change Russian President Vladimir Putin’s calculus, the United States needs to finally take action.
When Secretary of State John Kerry visits Kiev for talks with the Ukrainian government, he should establish a renewed commitment of U.S. support in the form of lethal assistance.
As we have seen in Ukraine, Putin has opened a war zone in Europe, refused to support enforcement of the Minsk Protocol, and shown no evidence or intention of deescalating the burgeoning crisis he has created. Instead, Putin has stated repeatedly that he has the right and the intention to deploy Russia’s nuclear weapons in the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.
At present, Russian forces hold a significant advantage over the Ukrainian military. Although Russia’s economy is about the size of Italy’s, their military threatens all of Europe and Putin continues to ratchet up his military presence and capabilities in Ukraine. At present, over 5,000 Ukrainian lives have been lost in the deadly conflict and Russia has conscripted nearly 100,000 troops to fight in Eastern Ukraine.
The United States cannot continue to stand idly by and allow this deteriorating situation to continue. President Barack Obama’s refusal to respond adequately to Putin’s escalation of an increasingly serious crisis has engendered an environment of weakness and sent a very dangerous message to Russia and to the rest of the world.
The president must change course and provide lethal assistance to Ukraine in order to bolster Ukrainian national security, prepare the Ukrainian army to confront the Russian threat, and help restore stability throughout the region.
(Read more: What Is Putin’s Next Move in Ukraine?)
In March of 2014, I urged Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to immediately provide Ukraine with the critical intelligence required to fully understand the severity of the Russian threat. Instead, nearly ten months later, an intelligence gap between the Ukrainian military and the United States government remains and the administration is only now “taking a fresh look” at the situation.
Last April, the armed forces of Ukraine asked the Obama administration for both lethal and non-lethal aid. Along with a bipartisan coalition of members, I urged the president to provide this assistance and to help make certain the Ukrainian forces were appropriately equipped to combat pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists. The president failed to do so.
This past fall, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko addressed a joint session of Congress and strongly reiterated his request for “more military equipment, both lethal and non-lethal, urgently,” arguing “one cannot win the war with blankets.” Notably, he stated, “In Ukraine, you don’t build a democracy. It already exists. You just defend it.” Instead of aiding Ukraine with the systems they specifically requested, the United States has persisted with its policy of solely providing non-lethal aid.
And at the end of last year, Congress unanimously approved legislation authorizing lethal assistance to Ukraine, which the president subsequently signed into law. Despite having the legal authority and strong bipartisan support from Congress, the president continues to vacillate on the issue.
NATO’s military commander, Gen. Philip Breedlove, has been vocal in his support for U.S. efforts to deter Russian aggression. In addition, this week a joint report from the Brookings Institution, the Atlantic Council, and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs recommended that the U.S. provide lethal assistance to Ukraine. Finally, on Wednesday, defense secretary nominee Ashton Carter stated, that he was “very much inclined in that direction” and that, “we need to support the Ukrainians in defending themselves,” including the possibility of “lethal” arms.
For far too long, the administration has been reticent to declare Russia as an adversary. President Obama needs to finally recognize that Putin poses a threat not only to Ukraine, but also to our NATO allies throughout Europe.
The United States cannot continue its pattern of indecision. The president must take immediate and decisive action to provide Ukraine with the lethal assistance required to confront and deter Putin’s ongoing aggression.