U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis went on an official visit to Ukraine on Thursday. During his stay in Kiev, Mattis repeated U.S. support to Ukraine, and accused Russia of aggressive behavior, but also stated his personal support for sending weapons to Ukraine.
“Despite Russia’s denials, we know they are seeking to redraw international borders by force, undermining the sovereign and free nations of Europe,” Mattis said at a joint press conference with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko.
This was not the first time the U.S. said it was considering sending lethal weapons to Kiev. Similar ideas appeared during the Obama administration, after the outbreak of conflict in Eastern Ukraine. United States and the European Union accused Russia of aggressive expansion in Ukraine, including the funding of pro-Russian rebels in the east, as well as Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
Moscow, on the other hand, rejected the accusations.
Some 14,000 people were killed since 2014 and the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine, after the country’s democratically elected President Victor Yanukovych was ousted in a violent coup.
The new regime in Kiev has counted on financial support from the West in its struggle with pro-Russian insurgents in the East, but the country faced significant economic problems.
Large scale conflict between government forces and the rebels was halted after the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany negotiated a truce, the so-called Minsk II Agreement in February 2015.
However, Mattis accused Russia of not respecting the Minsk agreement. He said the U.S. was ‘reviewing’ lethal aid to Kiev, despite fears that supplying Ukraine with weapons could escalate the conflict.
“Defensive weapons are not provocative unless you are an aggressor and clearly Ukraine is not an aggressor since it is their own territory where the fighting is happening,” Mattis said.
John McCain, one of the leading members of the pro-war party of the U.S establishment urged the Trump administration to provide ‘lethal aid’ to Ukraine.
“Secretary Mattis’ visit to Kiev provides yet another opportunity for the United States to correct its policy toward Ukraine and provide the lethal defensive assistance the country needs to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” McCain said in a statement.
As tensions between Russia and NATO in Eastern Europe are already high, it is likely that any lethal aid to Kiev would greatly worsen the situation in Ukraine and serve to antagonize Russia.
Photo Credit: Reuters Gleb Garanich