After Russia invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014 and formally annexed the Crimean peninsula, Congress passed the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. This section (Sec. 1250) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 provided $300 million “to provide appropriate security assistance and intelligence support, including training, equipment, and logistics support, supplies and services, to military and other security forces of the Government of Ukraine.”
The provision allowed the Pentagon to help Ukraine build its defensive capabilities and provided that $50 million was reserved for “Lethal assistance such as anti-armor weapon systems, mortars, crew-served weapons and ammunition, grenade launchers and ammunition, and small arms and ammunition,” as well as, “Counter-artillery radars, including medium-range and long-range counter-artillery radars that can detect and locate long-range artillery.”
Obama administration balked at lethal aid
The law provided the Obama administration with a loophole, however. If the secretaries of defense and state certified to Congress that providing lethal assistance was “not in the national security interests of the United States,” that money would become available for non-lethal aid.
For all the Democrats’ crowing about the Russian threat to the United States, President Obama declined to provide that lethal aid, fearing an overall escalation of tensions. The reservation was not shared universally within the administration, however. In his September hearing on reappointment as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford reiterated his support for providing lethal aid to give Ukraine the capability of defeating the Russian-backed insurgency that still grips its eastern provinces.
“In my judgment, from the military perspective, Ukraine needed additional capabilities to protect their sovereignty,” Dunford told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Inhofe lights the fire
Section 1234 of the NDAA which cleared the Senate yesterday extended the program through the end of 2020, and provides for an additional $350 million in military aid to Ukraine this fiscal year. In the latest call for lethal aid, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) sent a letter to the White House yesterday to reiterate his support for the measure. Calling Russia’s actions in Crimea “unprecedented in modern European history,” Inhofe urged the president to “quickly expand” aid to Ukraine, “particularly in the form of long-overdue defensive lethal assistance.”
Inhofe’s constituents have a little skin in the game. Since December 2016, members of the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team have been rotating to Ukraine as part of a security assistance mission. The Guardsmen are joining soldiers from other NATO countries in an effort to train Ukrainian soldiers, many of whom have already gained combat experience against the insurgency, and build them into a more professional fighting force.
This is a clear indication of the U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense, but it is not enough. The Trump administration needs to step up and do what the Obama administration lacked the courage to do: give Ukraine the weapons it needs to do the job properly. Armored personnel carriers and night vision devices were a good start. But Congress has given the president the authority to do more, and the money with which to do it. The U.S. has delayed for long enough.
It’s time to send the bullets along with the beans.