As Russia mounted 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border in March, the White House and the Department of Defense readied a $100 million military assistance package that was frozen once President Joe Biden announced a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to reports.
The Russian troop buildup, allegedly for unannounced military exercises, coincided with smaller American exercises in the Black Sea region. A previous buildup in eastern Ukraine led to the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and a protracted war that simmers seven years later. As Putin massed attack helicopters and aircraft on the eastern Ukrainian border, Biden and NATO leaders condemned Russia and called for a drawdown but made no public offers of military assistance. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urgently called for entry into NATO and the military weaponry his country lacks.
“Russia is not the entity that takes words seriously,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told the Washington Examiner at a June 3 meeting in Kyiv.
“If they see that the only reaction the West can offer is words, they will understand that their hands are untied to that,” he added when asked if he was disappointed that Biden had not offered military assistance in the face of Putin’s aggression. “They can do fairly aggressive actions against Ukraine and against other countries as well.”
The minister gave no indication at the time that he was aware that a military package from the United States was in the works, but he did outline the types of assistance needed.
“Our navy and air defense are our top priorities,” Kuleba said. “This is big, this is serious, and this is where we can really do a lot together because the United States [is] also particularly strong in these fields.”
The Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry did not respond to requests Friday for comment about reports of the frozen assistance package.
The package was reported to include short-range air defense systems, small arms, and anti-tank weapons, according to a report. The Department of Defense referred questions by the Washington Examiner to the White House's National Security Council, which did not respond to inquiries Friday.
Ukraine is battling Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donbass region of its country, which provides vital land access to the Sea of Azov and the Crimean Peninsula.
Russia has heavily militarized Crimea but can only reach the strategic point by sea and a bridge hastily built by Putin after the annexation. Security analysts suggest that Putin is vying for a land bridge to Crimea and eventually control of the Ukrainian port at Mariupol.
Ukraine’s only deterrent against Russia is greater military assistance, analysts and government officials say.
“There is a need,” former Ukrainian National Security Council member Alexander Danyliuk recently told the Washington Examiner in Kyiv. “Russia has an advantage in aviation. We don’t have an anti-aircraft defense system.”
In an interview prior to the Biden-Putin summit announcement, Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper told the Washington Examiner that the Pentagon was providing a wide range of military assistance to Ukraine.
“We are working to ensure Ukraine, in particular, has the resilience it needs to defend itself against acts of Russian aggression, and here we have a very comprehensive training and equipment program,” Cooper said.
At the time, the Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia official described assistance including Javelin anti-tank missiles, counter-artillery radars, grenade launchers, and Humvees.
Asked if the Russian troop buildup prompted additional military assistance, Cooper said security assistance conversations were ongoing.
“We always talk about Ukraine's requirements, and we're always evaluating what they need and what the threat environment is,” she said. “It's a very active and dynamic conversation and continues as such.”
Kuleba said talk needs to turn into actual military assistance, something Biden reportedly rescinded ahead of the Putin summit.
“Talking is important. However, talking becomes irrelevant when it's not followed by actions,” the foreign minister said.
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Original Author: Abraham Mahshie