SEPT. 10, 2017 — Washington is apparently considering the possibility of providing lethal military aid to Ukraine, an action that Russia would consider to be provocative.
Notably, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, a retired Marine general, has suggested that measure and presented it as a possible response to Russian intervention in America’s 2016 elections.
There are a number of problems with that action. One of them is that it potentially moves the United States and possibly NATO, if it agreed to go along, one step closer to war with Russia. There is already sparring between U.S. and NATO and Russian forces on the border between East and West, with both sides carrying out exercises near the edge.
A second major problem is that Ukraine is already a divided, sometimes almost lawless area between East and West. America has recently had that image of Ukraine reinforced by evidence that elements in that country almost certainly helped North Korea proceed with its evolving nuclear and missile program through purchases of Ukrainian-based technology, expertise and probably equipment. Reports last month indicate that a firm named Yuzhmash, located in Dnipro (on the line between Ukrainian-controlled territory and Russian-supported rebel territory) has been cooperating with North Korea for about two years. The North Koreans’ more successful missiles tests have been enabled by more powerful Ukrainian-made RD-250 engines.
The third reason for the United States not to move from nonlethal aid to Ukraine to more sophisticated weaponry is that such action would only make worse the conflict that has torn that country for several years now. Russian support of Ukrainian dissidents in the east of the country, plus Russian annexation of Crimea, has made it difficult in recent years to continue to regard Ukraine as a nation. Pouring more U.S. arms into the situation would only raise the level of hostilities, not lead to a peaceful resolution of the future of Ukraine.
Finally, the level of corruption in Ukraine, and the involvement of American entrepreneurs in the situation there, including that of Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager of President Donald Trump, under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller and two congressional intelligence committees, suggests that deeper American involvement there would not make sense.
The impact of increased U.S. military aid to Ukraine at this time on prospects for improved U.S. relations with Russia, given growing knowledge by Americans of Russian involvement in the 2016 elections and Russian reactions, is hard to gauge.
What is clear, however, is that reduced tensions with Russia should continue to be a U.S. goal. Increased military aid to Ukraine is not consistent with that goal.