A Russian T-90 tank.

A Russian T-90 tank. Flickr image via Dmitry Terekhov

Obama Should Have Given Weapons to Ukraine, Says Former Pentagon Russia Official

Evelyn Farkas, who stepped down last week as the Pentagon’s top policy official for Russia and Ukraine, says the U.S. should open a military base in Eastern Europe to send a message to Vladimir Putin.

The Obama administration should send Ukraine antitank weapons to fend off Russian-backed separatists in the eastern region of the country, a recently departed top Pentagon official said.

Evelyn Farkas, who stepped down Friday as deputy assistant secretary for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, said she advocated for sending these lethal weapons to Ukraine while at the Pentagon.

“I happen to personally fall into the camp that believes we should provide lethal defensive assistance to Ukraine, primarily antitank weapons,” she said at a Defense Writers Group breakfast Wednesday.

Ukraine has been pleading with the U.S. and its NATO allies for lethal weapons and other types of equipment for its military. The U.S. has promised to send small, unarmed drones, humvees and other basic equipment, but Ukraine has wanted more substantial gear.

“We need further military assistance, namely modern anti-tank systems, reconnaissance and combat unmanned aerial vehicles,” Army Gen. Viktor Muzhenko, chief of the general staff of Ukrainian Armed Forces, told Defense One in an email through a spokesman this week. “Another crucial area is electronic warfare and modern anti-aircraft systems.”

Muzhenko said Ukraine’s military is “sufficiently equipped and trained to adequately react to challenges that threaten Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”

Farkas said the White House decision to not send these types of weapons to Ukraine did not factor in her decision to leave. She complemented the Obama administration's efforts to send Ukraine $266 million of “real assistance” through equipment and training, which “has improved” Kiev’s military forces.

“My departure has nothing to do with the ongoing work,” she said. “It’s a good time personally for me to leave and I feel that we actually have achieved a lot over the last three years.”

The U.S. should also consider basing troops in Eastern Europe, Farkas said, a move that Poland has called for on numerous occasions since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

“We could examine whether we need to adjust our force posture to put more forces in further east,” Farkas said. “I think we should consider that.”

Instead, NATO has opted to preposition military equipment in Poland.

Farkas also argues money for the European Reassurance Initiative, which funds training and temporary military deployments to the continent, should be put in the Pentagon’s base budget. That would signal more of a permanence to allies in Europe, she said. The project is funded through the Pentagon’s war budget. So far, Congress has approved nearly $1 billion for the effort.

“The [European Reassurance Initiative] itself has to be tailored a bit so that it is more effectively focusing on deterrence and not so heavy on the presence,” Farkas said.

Applauding Secretary of State John Kerry’s current trip through Central Asia, Farkas also argues that top U.S. officials need to pay more attention to countries that feel threatened by Russia, including not just Ukraine, but Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

“The countries around the periphery of Russia, they need our political attention; they also need our economic assistance and then they need our military assistance,” she said. “All of that attention and all of that very real assistance will deter Russia.”