United States mulls 'lethal aid' to Ukraine

Feb 03, 2015, 6:37 AM EST
Volunteer soldiers' battalion 'Aydar' and their supporters burn tires blocking the roadway in front of the Ministry of Defense, during a protest in Kiev, Ukraine on February 2, 2015. Soldiers protest against the disbandment of their battalion.
AFP/Getty Images

As clashes between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian military forces heat up in eastern Ukraine after peace negotiations failed over the weekend, the United States is giving new thought to arming Ukraine's troops. No decision has been made, but the BBC quotes National Security spokesperson Bernadette Meehan as saying the US was "constantly assessing" its policies in Ukraine.

While the idea of arming Ukrainian troops has been floated before, U.S. President Barack Obama has been resistant to the idea, concerned that such a move would result in a proxy war between the United States and Russia.

Currently, the US provides only non-lethal military equipment to Ukraine such as gas masks and radar technology. But the New York Times reported on Monday that the failure of such aid and of economic sanctions to stop Russia from helping the rebels is pushing the issue of defensive weapons back into discussion. The deliveries would include "defensive lethal aid," states CNN, including anti-mortar, anti-air, and anti-tank systems.

Meanwhile, separatist rockets streaked across hills in eastern Ukraine on Monday as rebels pounded the positions of Ukrainian government troops holding a strategic rail town, while both sides prepared to mobilise more forces for combat. Reuters writes that Kiev's military said five more Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in clashes, while municipal authorities in the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk said 15 civilians had been killed by shelling at the weekend.

Donetsk reverberated to the thud of artillery and mortar fire through the night, continues the Reuters report, and several homes were destroyed with at least one civilian death on Monday. Separatists kept up attacks on Debaltseve, a strategic rail hub to the northeast of Donetsk, in an attempt to dislodge government forces there.

The outskirts of Yenakieve and Vuhlegirsk, both on the main highway to Debaltseve, were under heavy artillery fire as rebel multiple rocket launchers and artillery pummelled the positions of Ukrainian troops in the area.