SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)- The U.S. government is considering providing Javelin antitank missiles, small arms and ammunition to Ukraine, part of an effort to try to deter further aggression by Russia-backed rebels there, according to U.S. officials.
The Pentagon has long supported providing some lethal aid, but until recently the White House has signaled little interest in such a move to avoid escalating the confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin .
However, amid a surge of new fighting in eastern Ukraine, the White House and military leaders have begun taking another look at providing lethal assistance such as the antitank missiles. An administration official said Susan Rice , the White House national-security adviser, has reopened the discussion, though officials cautioned that no decision has been made.
Similar discussions have taken place throughout the past several months.
The U.S. has been providing nonlethal military aid, including protective vests, night-vision goggles and counter-mortar radar systems, to Ukraine in recent months. But so far, it hasn’t provided arms or ammunition.
The revived discussion, officials said, centers on whether a decision to provide “defensive lethal arms” would prompt Mr. Putin to reduce his support for the pro-Moscow rebels or trigger him to ramp it up, further destabilizing the country.
“It’s hard to predict how it would play out,” said a senior U.S. official. “But what has to be factored into the decision is, of course, the Moscow reaction.”
Moscow denies that it is supporting rebels in Ukraine and has blamed the latest fighting there on Kiev government forces, which Mr. Putin last week described as “a NATO foreign legion” seeking to contain Russia.
On Monday, he “called on all sides of the conflict to immediately stop the fighting and cease any manifestations of violence,” his spokesman was quoted by the Russian state-run TASS agency as saying.
Some officials believe defensive lethal aid that could help Ukrainian forces better defend themselves from Russian-supplied heavy weaponry could de-escalate the situation. But others have argued that Mr. Putin could easily counter U.S.-supplied arms, making the situation on the ground more dangerous.
Javelins are self-guided missiles that can be used by a foot soldier as a shoulder-fired weapon. But the U.S. is considering having the Ukrainians mount them on vehicles, which would allow its forces to maneuver more quickly against tanks and other armored vehicles supporting rebel forces. Because they are self-guided, Javelins are often called a “fire and forget” missile.
Top White House advisers to the president are expected to discuss Ukraine options this week, but officials said it isn’t clear if a decision will be made then.
Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Kiev this week. During a visit by Vice PresidentJoe Biden in November, U.S. officials announced they would provide the radar systems, as well as other forms of nonlethal aid.
Monday at the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest reiterated that “we’re continually assessing what sort of options are available.” He said that Russia and Ukraine would be on the agenda when German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Washington next week.
In Budapest on Monday, Ms. Merkel said Germany won’t supply arms to Ukraine because it was still banking on a peaceful solution, despite the recent escalation of hostilities.
Rebels have been waging an offensive for more than a week to take a rail hub in the city of Debaltseve that links the two provinces of their putative state. But Ukrainian troops have held on amid savage artillery duels that have sapped both sides.
A Ukrainian military spokesman said five government soldiers had been killed in the last 24 hours. Rebels, who seldom list their own casualties, reported 11 civilian deaths over the same period but none of their own.
The rebel leader, Alexander Zakharchenko, announced plans Monday to raise up to 100,000 troops, telling a separatist news agency that that would be sufficient to oppose Ukraine’s army.
The announcement came as the government in Kiev has been conducting a new round of conscriptions in recent weeks.
Ukraine has an estimated 232,000 troops, supported by several volunteer battalions. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk last month proposed increasing the size of the armed forces to 250,000.
Western aid agencies warn of a humanitarian catastrophe in the region and mounting civilian deaths. A regional director for Amnesty International, John Dalhuisen, accused both sides of using unguided rockets and mortars in heavily populated areas. “Such attacks are a violation of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes,” he said.