Washington, Feb 2: US President Barack Obama is reconsidering whether to send lethal assistance to Ukraine, a senior administration official said today, but continues to have concerns about the effectiveness of that step and the risks of a proxy war between the US and Russia.
The official said Obama is specifically concerned about the besieged Ukrainian military's capacity for using high-powered, American-supplied weaponry. The president has also argued that no amount of arming the Ukrainians would put them on par with Russia's military prowess. The US accuses Russia of supplying the pro-Kremlin separatists that are stirring instability in eastern Ukraine.
The US has limited its supplies to the Ukrainian military to non-lethal aid, such as gas masks and radar technology to detect incoming fire. Some administration officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and NATO Commander Gen Philip Breedlove, have been pressing Obama for months to expand that assistance to include defensive aid to help Ukraine's military hold positions and prevent more incursions by Russian-backed separatists.
While the White House has weighed this option previously, Obama has stuck with his opposition to lethal aid. However, the official said an uptick in violence in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks has spurred Obama to take a fresh look at supplying Ukraine with lethal aid, along with other options for calming tensions.
A US military official said defensive lethal aid could include anti-tank missiles, such as the Javelin weapon system, along with armored vehicles. Other options could involve foreign military sales, training or other aid.
The US and Europe could also ratchet up economic sanctions against Russia. The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. A decision on escalating aid is not imminent, the administration official cautioned, adding that Obama would want to first discuss the issue with European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is due to visit Washington next week.