PICKING SIDES

Trump Administration Approves New Weapons Sale to Ukraine, Bucking Putin

“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by improving the security of Ukraine,” the State Department said.

Oleksandr Klymenko/Reuters

The Trump administration on Thursday approved a massive new weapons sale to Ukraine, as that country continues to defend itself against Russian-backed separatists.

The decision represents a show of force against Russian President Vladimir Putin, as the United States and its allies continue to accuse Moscow of destabilizing eastern Europe and the Middle East through the use of military incursions and cyber warfare.

The $47 million sale includes 210 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 37 launch units, the State Department said, and it comes less than three months after the administration approved a similar lethal defensive weapons sale.

“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by improving the security of Ukraine,” the department said. “The Javelin system will help Ukraine build its long-term defense capacity to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity in order to meet its national defense requirements.”

Congress has 30 days to nix the sale, but lawmakers from both parties have been supportive of such measures in the past and are unlikely to block it. Republicans, in particular, have praised the administration for approving weapons sales to Ukraine in the past, and have pointed to those actions to rebut criticisms that the Trump administration hasn’t been tough enough on Russia—particularly when it comes to mandatory sanctions against Moscow, many of which have not yet been implemented as required by law.

Democrats have derided President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over the non-implementation of new sanctions against Russia that Congress passed overwhelmingly last year. But when it comes to providing military assistance to Ukraine and sanctioning alleged Russian human-rights abusers, they’ve praised Trump and other top officials.

Thursday’s announcement runs counter to a controversial change that was made to the Republican party platform in 2016. The Daily Beast reported at the time that top Trump campaign officials tried to soften language in the party’s official platform about military aid to Ukraine in order to make it more Russia-friendly. Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has been indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller, used to work for Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin former president, Viktor Yanukovych. In December, a GOP delegate said Trump himself was directly involved in the platform change.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that the administration should be doing more to ensure that Moscow pays a price—including the full implementation of those congressionally mandated sanctions. Still, Thornberry said Thursday, Trump’s team is doing more to counter Russian aggression than the Obama administration.

“By renewing strategies to confront Russia in the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, agreeing to help arm Ukraine and restoring America’s military strength, the Trump administration is taking important steps to turn that trend around, but much more needs to be done,” Thornberry said in a statement.

The timing of Thursday’s weapons announcement likely wasn’t lost on top administration officials. It came on the same day that Putin revealed that Russia has successfully developed “invincible” nuclear weapons that can “reach anywhere in the world.”