As leaders of France and Germany pitched a plan to stop the fighting in Ukraine to the leaders in Kiev and Moscow, calls within the U.S. for the Obama administration to provide weapons to the Ukrainian military drew a response from the Kremlin.
Alexander Lukashevich, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, warned of dire consequences if U.S. weapons find their way into the hands of the Ukrainian army.
“Without a doubt, if such a decision is realized, it will cause colossal damage to US-Russian relations, especially if the residents of Donbass start to be killed by American weapons.”
He said the provision of weapons to Ukraine “would not only threaten to escalate the situation in the southeast of Ukraine, but threaten the security of Russia, whose territory has been repeatedly shelled from Ukraine.”
This week, President Obama’s nominee to run the Defense Department, Ash Carter, appeared during confirmation hearings to be more open to providing advanced weapons to Ukraine than the administration had in the past. Other signals suggest that the White House was already moving in that direction.
Congress has made no secret of its desire to see U.S. weapons in the hands of Ukrainian soldiers who are facing a rebellion backed by Moscow. They are fighting both rebels and Russian soldiers armed with state of the art offensive weapons, including tanks, artillery, and rocket launchers.
Both houses of Congress have passed measures backing the supply of weapons, and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been particularly vocal about the need to help the Ukrainian people “defend themselves” against Russian aggression.
Russia has denied supplying the rebels with weapons, despite assertions to the contrary from, among others, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, who currently serves as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.
“We all agree that there are Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine,” he said in an interview with National Public Radio. “The numbers are not the important piece; there are hundreds and hundreds of them in there. But what is important is what they are doing. They are supplying weapons to the Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine. They are supplying supplies and ammunition and capabilities to the Russians-backed forces in Eastern Ukraine.”
He continued, “We know they are supplying air defense capabilities and air defense cover, etc., etc. So, they are there and they're enabling their Russian-backed partners in Eastern Ukraine to take the actions that they're taking.”
Russia has admitted that some of its soldiers may be serving in Ukraine, but says they are doing so voluntarily, and on their own time rather than on orders from the Kremlin.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande traveled to Moscow on Friday, after spending much of Thursday in talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The aim, spokespersons said, was to find a way to implement a ceasefire in Ukraine as quickly as possible.
The two leaders reportedly met with Russian President Vladimir Putin for five hours with no result other than a promise to speak again by phone on Sunday and the promise that the discussion had been productive.
“The talks are over for now and our guests are already on their way to the airport,” a Kremlin spokesman said in a press conference late Friday.
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