In 2017, the United States began supplying Javelin missile launchers and sniper systems to Ukraine. This equipment, in addition to nonlethal aid (since 2014), is intended to help fight off Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region.
Yet the aid policy has a number of fundamental shortcomings: its effectiveness at the tactical level is limited; it will likely encourage, not deter, Russia’s engagement in the conflict; and it fails to address the root causes of the Donetsk and Luhansk (collectively—Donbas) rebellions.
For these reasons, weapons aid should cease. Instead, the U.S. policy in Ukraine should focus on facilitating the negotiation process.
Limited Tactical Utility—With Risks
Two years on and weapons aid has failed to challenge the status quo in Donbas. The war has held in a stalemate along the four-hundred-kilometer “line of contact,” with intermittent skirmishes but no signs of a breakthrough since aid flows began.
In fact, the aid’s value appears to be largely symbolic. Javelin missile launchers are primarily useful against tanks, which have been deployed only sparingly by the Russian military, and the sniper systems. Reportedly, Barrett .50 BMG rifles, are flashy but too large to be relied upon in maneuver warfare, which is what will be needed to recapture separatist territory.
Policymakers should consider whom they are giving weapons to. Ukraine is a debt-ridden state and only five years beyond an extralegal revolution. Should the government collapse again, then American weapons could end up in the possession of any number of dubious paramilitary groups.