Military expert Anton Lavrov talks about how the U.S. decision to supply Kiev with lethal weapons will change the situation in Ukraine.
The Trump administration’s approval of supplying the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense with large-scale sniper rifles – Barrett M107A1s – will become a precursor to further events. It will affect U.S. – Russia relations, and, of course, the fate of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The Ukrainian administration appealed to the U.S. for weapons immediately after the events in Crimea back in March 2014. At some point, Kiev even hoped to completely rearm several brigades of its Airborne Forces, though it would require billions of dollars in U.S. investment. However, against the background of the Minsk agreements, Ukraine’s wish for new weapons was not destined to come true. Almost all of the NATO countries have refrained from supplying the weapons. Ukraine managed only to get hold of small old arms from the Baltic countries and ammunition from Eastern Europe.
The administration of commercial exports of small arms from the United States is much milder than for serious weapons. Taking advantage of this, Ukrainian security forces managed to purchase small batches of Barrett M82 and M107 rifles in 2014-2015 to equip the National Guard of Ukraine. However, currently it is the first supply on such a large scale to be approved at the highest administrative level directly for the army of Ukraine.
It should be noted that the “unspoken embargo” on the supply of lethal weapons to Ukraine under the previous administration was based on former President Barack Obama's personal decision. There were many who opposed the idea of supplying weapons to Kiev, especially in Congress and the Pentagon. U.S. military assistance has so far remained in place only for non-lethal weapons and is limited in scope, although it is measured in hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
U.S. financial assistance, specifically for armament, was relatively little. During the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the U.S. Department of Defense provided Kiev with 200 Humvee cars of armored and unarmored modifications through the mechanism of the Foreign Military Sales program. Besides that, the Ukrainian army received secure digital communication devices from Harris Corp., 72 Raven RQ-11B drones from AeroVironment and artillery radar from Raytheon. These "defensive" weapons were immediately used by Ukraine at the front. Immediately, sniper rifles were also to be approved, weapons which the Ukrainian military will certainly test on the enemy, regardless of any truce or peace agreements.
It may seem that Trump's approval of supplying Ukraine with just sniper rifles instead of the requested anti-tank guided missiles and heavy weapons is a kind of concession to Moscow, a compromise between supporters of arming Ukraine to the teeth and those who follow the principle of restraint. Technically, of course, the fact that the Ukrainian army will receive even a large supply of Barrett weapons cannot radically change the situation on the front line or protect Ukraine from the mythical "Russian aggression.”
However, Kiev and the war hawks in Washington do not hide the fact that this contract has become an important psychological frontier or milestone, after which it will be easier to achieve getting other weapons, and thus, they celebrate a victory.
Without any doubt, the open "pumping" of Ukraine with foreign lethal weapons will encourage the government and the armed forces of Ukraine and may push them to make unreasonable decisions. The scenario of a quick military victory is still much more preferable for them than fulfilling the conditions of the Minsk agreements. After all, it is out of the question that Ukraine will not stop its shelling, sabotage and "creeping offensive.” Currently, this is exactly what serves as a red flag to the bull, preventing the achievement of a ceasefire in the conflict zone.
After the former Georgian president falsely interpreted signals of Western support, he was pushed to pursue a military adventure in South Ossetia in 2008 which ended badly for his country. We cannot rule out a repetition of this situation with Ukraine. The Russian side has repeatedly hinted that any attempts by the foreign-backed Ukrainian side to drop the Minsk agreements and resolve the conflict by military means are simply unacceptable. And U.S. military support won’t change this situation.
The U.S. publicly declared that Russia is a party to the conflict in Ukraine. Therefore, the U.S. administration proceeds from the premise that any supply of arms to Ukraine is a challenge to Moscow. At the same time, the U.S. does this without understanding (or simply not wanting to understand) that by supplying Kiev with lethal weapons, the U.S. itself transforms from an outside observer and potential peacemaker into a party to the armed conflict.
Anyhow, it is clear that the reckless new decision of the White House will not help normalize the life of the civilian population on either side of the conflict or lead to a freeze, or in the long run lead to resolving the conflict. But with every new death and every new day that the implementation of the peace treaty is delayed, hope for the reintegration of the Donbass with Ukraine becomes increasingly remote.