As the crisis in Crimea reaches its “military stage,” and Russian troops have begun firing on Ukrainian soldiers, American promises of limited help to the Ukrainian military have not yet been fulfilled.
A senior Pentagon official told The Daily Beast that batches of Meals Ready to Eats (MREs), the only aid the U.S. has agreed to provide for the Ukrainian army, have not yet left their storage locations in the United States. “We are sourcing our stockpiles and working quickly to fulfill the request,” the official said, declining to say when the food might leave for Ukraine, much less arrive there.
The Obama administration has rejected, for now, Ukrainian requests for direct military assistance. That policy, along with the delay in sending the food that was promised, has angered senior lawmakers who are advocating for more robust support for the Ukrainian armed forces.
“I understand the MREs that we promised have never even left the United States,” Sen. John McCain told The Daily Beast. “I would have announced a dispatch of defensive weapons, small arms that the Ukrainians asked for and announced the development of a military assistance plan long term for Ukraine so they can defend themselves.”
McCain traveled to Ukraine last weekend and met with leaders of the government in Kiev. Ukraine only has about 6,000 troops equipped and ready to fight, he said. As for what the Ukrainians have requested from the U.S., McCain said, “Everything.”
To be sure, the promise of MREs to the Ukrainian military only came about a week ago. But the pace of the deliveries is slow compared to similar situations in the past, a former Pentagon official told The Daily Beast.
For example, when Russian invaded Georgia in 2008, Gen. David Petraeus facilitated the return of almost 2,000 Georgian troops to Georgia from Iraq and made it happen within 48 hours.
“They are being invaded now,” the former Pentagon official said. “This is a war situation, that’s why it’s strange it is taking so long given the urgency of the matter. What kind of message does that send anyway? We are sending MREs while they are being invaded by an aggressor.”
On Wednesday, Russian forces stormed the Ukrainian Naval headquarters in Crimea and arrested the commander of Ukrainian Naval forces there. Ukrainian leaders in Kiev have vowed not to abandon their military bases in Crimea.
Last year, the Obama administration promised MREs in place of requested weapons to the Free Syrian Army, but the MREs sent were due to expires shortly after delivery. McCain also criticized that move at the time, saying that perhaps the Syrian rebels could “throw them at the tanks.”