US president Barack Obama speaking at an event on the housing sector in Phoenix, Arizona.
(Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)
U.S. President Barack Obama photographed at an event in Phoenix, Arizona, in January. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

Obama Facing Rising Pressure to Arm Ukraine

While EU foreign ministers meet today in Latvia to discuss the Ukraine crisis, leading U.S. Republicans and Democrats have expressed frustration with what many see as the Obama administration’s resistance to providing weapons despite what they see as increased Russian aggression.

According to a letter released yesterday, U.S House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and other senior Republican and Democratic House members urge U.S. President Barack Obama to quickly authorize lethal weapons for Ukraine as it battles Russian-backed separatists.

“We urge you to quickly approve additional efforts to support Ukraine’s efforts to defend its sovereign territory, including through the transfer of lethal, defensive weapons systems to the Ukrainian military,” they wrote in a letter, dated Wednesday, according to Reuters.


Risk of escalating

The letter followed up on a meeting between Boehner, other members of the Congress and Ukrainian lawmakers last week. 

It was signed by Boehner, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and top Republicans and Democrats from the House Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, as well as the Republican chairs of the House Appropriations Committee and Defense and State and Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittees.

Both Obama and European leaders are weighing their options and next steps in dealing with the conflict in eastern Ukraine. A possible option is to provide weapons as well as additional sanctions against Russia, over its role in supporting rebels.

U.S officials have said that they are concerned about the risk of escalating the level of fighting, and getting sucked into a proxy war with Russia.

Two days ago, Victoria Nuland – U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European affairs – told in a congressional hearing that the United States has provided $118 million in security aid over the past 14 months. Last month, the U.S State Department pledged nearly $17 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

Lack of clarity

“In the face of Russian aggression, the lack of clarity on our overall strategy thus far has done little to reassure our friends and allies in the region who, understandably, feel vulnerable. This needs to change,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.

Last year the House and U.S. Senate voted unanimously for a bill authorizing Obama to provide weapons to Ukraine, but the president has yet to decide whether to send any.

When Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko asked the U.S. Congress for lethal weapon supplies in September, Washington did not grant his request.

According to the German news agency DPA, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said last month that each member of the alliance must make an independent decision on the supply of weapons to the Kiev government.

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