US Should Arm Ukraine — Steven Pifer
18 June, 2015

What You Need To Know:

✓ The Obama administration should give Ukraine lethal assistance;
✓ If Minsk 2 completely broke down and the US were to provide Ukraine with weapons, Germany would not oppose it;
✓ The point of providing arms is to deter rather than defend;
✓ Russia has violated all its commitments and so it imposes responsibility on Britain and the US in terms of helping Ukraine but also taking steps to penalize Russia.

“I think it’s well-known that Chancellor Merkel does not favour providing arms. I believe that President Obama decided to hold off for now to support Chancellor Merkel’s effort and as long as the Minsk 2 process hasn’t completely collapsed, my sense is that the President will be cautious on this question,” said Steven Pifer, senior fellow at Brookings Institution and US Ambassador to Ukraine (1998-2000). “I can understand his level of caution. He fears that is the US provides arms the Russians will escalate the conflict. I think he’s wrong. I think that the risks are manageable.”

Pifer added that he believes the Russians and the separatists were to launch a major new offensive in eastern Ukraine and the ceasefire broke down the political situation in Washington would be very different. Moreover that in the case that Minsk 2 did completely break down and the US were to provide weapons, it is unlikely that the German government would oppose it.

The point of providing arms, Pifer told Hromadske, is to deter rather than defend. It would be about giving the Ukrainian military the capability to impose greater cost on the Russian military.“The US government is moving forward on non-lethal assistance but unfortunately in my view American policy still prohibits of the provision of lethal assistance,” said Pifer.

For a report, co-authored by several experts and academics and published in February 2015 by the Brookings Institute, Pifer traveled to Kramartorsk in East Ukraine to speak with the Ukrainian military. They came up with 7 specific recommendations, 6 of which were for non-lethal assistance such as counter battery radars that allow you to pin point the source of artillery fire or rocket attacks, drones that would allow for surveillance purposes, equipment to jam Russian drones, secure communications equipment, armored Humvees and medical equipment. The US government has already provided some non-lethal assistance such as armored Humvees and they’re beginning to provide the drones, according to Pifer.

The one item of lethal assistance that the Ukraine military requested, said Pifer, was light anti-armor weapons which two men can carry, set up, aim and fire all by themselves. According to Pifer the Ukrainian army stock of these weapons were all over 25 years old and most of them did not work.

Other ways the US can support Ukraine, according to Pifer, is to provide defensive weapons and if they do so the Baltic states, Poland and Canada might follows. The US must also be ready to raise the existing sanctions on Russia if they escalate the conflict or do not implement Minsk 2. Furthermore the US should provide Ukraine with additional funding if it pushed forward with reforms.

The US has done some things in response to Budapest Memorandum, said Pifer, it should be doing more. According to Pifer, Russia has violated all its commitments and so it imposes responsibility on Britain and the US in terms of helping Ukraine but also taking steps to penalize Russia.

Though there are many things on US agenda, domestic policy, china, Syria, Iran ISIS, within the US administration and congress there is a lot of support for Ukraine but still more needs to be done, said Pifer.

The report co-authored by Pifer and published by the Brookings Institute can be found here:

Hromadske International's Nataliya Gumenyuk and Ian Bateson spoke with Steven Pifer on June 14, 2015.