The Ukrainian pavilion at IDEX 2015.

The Ukrainian pavilion at IDEX 2015. Defense One by Marcus Weisgerber

Pentagon Weapons Chief To Meet With Ukrainians

Even though they are not allowed to sell to them, U.S. arms makers are meeting with Ukrainian military officials, listening to their weapons wish list.

ABU DHABI – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is expected to meet with U.S. defense companies Tuesday during a major arms exhibition here even though the American government has not cleared the firms to sell Kiev lethal weapons.

Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s acquisition executive is scheduled to meet with a Ukrainian delegation Monday evening, however Poroshenko is not expected to be there. Kendall, in an interview, said he will be bringing a message of support from the United States.

“I expect the conversation will be about their needs,” Kendall told Defense One a few hours before the meeting. “We’re limited at this point in time in terms of what we’re able to provide them, but where we can be supportive, we want to be.”

To this point, the United States has only given Ukraine non-lethal items, including medical supplies, body armor, sleeping mats, water-purification units, small power generators and hand fuel pumps. Ukrainian officials have been lobbying for armored vehicles and reconnaissance equipment.

As undersecretary of defense for acquisition, Kendall does not negotiate Defense Department policy with allies.

“I’ll be … primarily in listening mode trying to understand what their needs are,” Kendall said.

Dozens of U.S. and foreign-made armored trucks, the types wanted by Ukraine, are on display here at the International Defense Exposition and Conference, known as IDEX.

(Read moreUS Military Increasing Foreign Expo Presence After 2-Year Downturn)

In Minsk earlier this month, Belarus, Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine, agreed to a package of deals, including a ceasefire in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian military has been fighting pro-Russian separatist forces in the region for roughly a year. Western officials say Russia has sent tanks, artillery, rocket launchers and other weapons in and near Eastern Ukraine.

“The U.S. is obviously very concerned about the situation there,” Kendall said. “We’re hopeful that the ceasefire will take real effect [and] will hold.”

A Ukrainian delegation has been visible in the exhibit hall here at the IDEX since Sunday.

The U.S. is said to be considering giving Ukraine lethal defensive weapons, however several NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels earlier this month spoke against sending these types of arms to Ukraine.

Russia’s support for militants that have been fighting in eastern Ukraine for nearly a year has rekindled Cold War memories for the U.S. and NATO allies alike. It has prompted pledges for increased NATO defense spending, particularly by eastern European members of the alliance.

A Russian tank stands at the entrance of Russia's pavilion at IDEX 2015.Photo by Marcus Weisgerber.

Here at IDEX, the fighting between Russia and Ukraine has been a topic of discussion by both military and defense industry representatives.

“[F]or us in Europe on our very borders, a resurgent Russia, having annexed the Crimea from Ukraine, now shows little respect for ceasefire agreements it helps negotiate one week in Eastern Ukraine only to help break the next,” Phillip Dunne, the U.K. Defence Ministry procurement chief, said here on Saturday.

Both Russian and Ukrainian companies are here showing off weapons and equipment, although their display areas are located at opposite ends of the massive Abu Dhabi National Exposition Center. At past trade shows, their booths have often been located closer together, many times adjacent to one another.

The Ukrainian defense industry, is displaying two armored vehicles. The country’s aircraft-maker, Antonov, is also displaying models of its large cargo planes.

One of the Ukrainian armored vehicles on display at IDEX 2015. Photo by Marcus Weisgerber.

By comparison, the Russians have a much larger presence, with a massive tank positioned at the forefront of their displays. Many attendees have been posing for pictures in front the tank’s massive cannon. A display of Kalashnikov guns has also been a popular selfie spot. Artillery, missiles and models of ships are spread throughout the Russian exhibit.

On Monday, representatives from Russian weapons manufacturer Almaz-Antey briefed reporters on the Antey 2500 and other types of sophisticated surface-to-air missile systems. Russia has reportedly offered the air defense system to Iran. The system includes various types of missile launchers, radars and command posts.

Russian officials also briefed the Buk-M2E surface-to-air missile system. A briefing slide of the types of targets the system could shoot down included pictures of a U.S. Air Force F-22 fighter and B-1 bomber. A version of the Buk is suspected to have shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July.