US officials say the country will provide lethal weapons to Ukraine

2017-12-23 14:11
A police officer comes to the aid of his injured colleague during a clash between protesters and police in Kiev, Ukraine. (Efrem Lukatsky, AP, file)

A police officer comes to the aid of his injured colleague during a clash between protesters and police in Kiev, Ukraine. (Efrem Lukatsky, AP, file)

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Washington - The Trump administration has approved a plan to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine, US officials announced on  Friday, in a long-awaited move that deepens America's involvement in the military conflict and may further strain relations with Russia.

The new arms include American-made Javelin anti-tank missiles that Ukraine has long sought to boost its defences against tanks that have rolled through eastern Ukraine during violence that has killed more than 10 000 since 2014.

Previously, the US has provided Ukraine with support equipment and training, and has let private companies sell some small arms like rifles.

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The officials describing the plan weren't authorised to discuss it publicly and demanded anonymity.

The move is likely to become another sore point between Washington and Moscow, as President Donald Trump contends with ongoing questions about whether he's too hesitant to confront the Kremlin.

Build its military

Ukraine accuses Russia of sending the tanks, and the US says Moscow is arming, training and fighting alongside the separatists.

Trump had been considering the plan for some time after the State Department and the Pentagon signed off earlier this year.

President Barack Obama also considered sending lethal weapons to Ukraine, but left office without doing so.

The State Department, responsible for overseeing foreign military sales, would not confirm that anti-tank missiles or other lethal weapons would be sent.

But in a statement late on Friday, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the US had decided to provide "enhanced defensive capabilities" to help Ukraine build its military long-term, defend its sovereignty and "deter further aggression".

"US assistance is entirely defensive in nature, and as we have always said, Ukraine is a sovereign country and has a right to defend itself," Nauert said.

The White House's National Security Council declined to comment. Russia's embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment late on Friday.

Although the portable Javelin anti-tank missiles can kill, proponents for granting them to Ukraine have long argued they are considered "defensive" because the Ukrainians would use them to defend their territory and deter the Russians, not to attack a foreign country or seize new territory.

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Read more on:    us  |  russia  |  ukraine  |  security

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