If the U.S. Arms Ukraine, Russia Vows Retaliation
Policy + Politics

If the U.S. Arms Ukraine, Russia Vows Retaliation

Despite President Obama’s claim on Monday that he has not yet made a decision about supplying defensive weapons to the Ukrainian army, which is battling Russia-backed separatists who want an independent region within that country, the Russian media is full of predictions. They’re warning of the terrible impact further U.S. involvement in the conflict might have.

Quoting a member of the Russian Defense Ministry's public advisory board who requested anonymity, The Moscow Times reported Monday that if the U.S. supplied arms to Ukraine, it would be viewed as an act of war. That action would not only increase the tension in the region, it would also force the Kremlin to “respond asymmetrically against Washington or its allies on other fronts,” the publication reported.

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Evgeny Buzhinsky, a former lieutenant general in the Russian Army who is now at the Moscow-based PIR Center, told the publication, “Russia would reasonably consider the U.S. to be a direct participant in the conflict.”

Also on Monday, the government-owned news agency ITAR-TASS reported that Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said, “We see major pressure on the issue in the United States, especially in Congress.”

“If the U.S., following a request from the Ukrainian government, starts supplying weapons to Kiev, it will violate a number of international documents,” Churkin said. “The U.S. has repeatedly chosen a graded approach to rules of international law.”

The government news agency also quoted Ruslan Bortnik, director of the Ukrainian Institute of Policy Analysis and Management, as calling the U.S. position a bluff. “It is just a kind of poker bidding up, it is a bluff, an attempt to press Putin to be more tractable,” Bortnik reportedly said.

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Will the U.S. supply arms to Ukraine? “Of course not,” Bortnik told TASS. “It might trigger an arms race bound to end up in Ukraine’s complete military defeat.”

Bortnik and his organization, it should be noted, are difficult to find in news archives, except in stories published by Russia’s government-friendly media.

The Obama administration’s position on arming Ukraine is actually still far from clear.

While Obama held open the possibility during Monday’s joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who arrived in Washington, D.C. Sunday evening, he was also dismissive of the Ukrainian army’s ability to effectively counter a “determined” Russian advance. U.S. aid, Obama suggested, would be aimed at raising the costs to Russia of further aggression, not actually preventing it entirely.

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“The prospect for a military solution to this problem has always been low,” he said. “Russia obviously has an extraordinarily powerful military and given the length of the Russian border with Ukraine, given the history between Russia and Ukraine, expecting that if Russia is determined that Ukraine can fully rebuff a Russian army has always been unlikely.”

Ukraine has been losing ground in its eastern regions to the pro-Russian separatists, who are apparently armed with advanced armor from Russia. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko over the weekend made an emotional appeal to western leaders for defensive weapons to help counter the separatists’ assaults. “We are an independent nation and we have a right to defend our people,” Poroshenko said Saturday at a high-level security conference in Munich. “Over the course of the offensive we have proved to be responsible and we will not use the defensive equipment for attack.”

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