On Wednesday, Josh Rogin of the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration has for the first time approved the commercial sale of Model M107A1 Sniper Systems, ammunition, and associated parts and accessories to Ukraine, a sale valued at $41.5 million. The Obama administration had refused to issue export licenses for lethal weapons.
Initial reports, including the Post’s, were that the sales to Ukraine would not encompass heavier weaponry such as Javelin anti-tank missiles. However, today the Post reports that Javelins will also be sold to Ukraine.
I guess the Kremlin has no information with which to blackmail President Trump, after all. And James Clapper — probably John Brennan’s closest competition for least intelligent man ever to lead an American intelligence agency — must be wrong in claiming that “Russia is handling President Trump as an asset.”
Russia denounced Trump’s decision on sales to Ukraine. Its Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said the decision will only make the conflict more deadly and that Russia might be forced to respond. He also said the U.S. can no longer cast itself as a mediator, and is now “an accomplice in fueling the war.” Putin himself has warned that U.S. assistance would escalate the conflict.
In reality, Russia is behind the war. Moreover, mediation has been futile because, as Jenna Lifhits of the Weekly Standard points out, Russia has failed to implement the 2015 Minsk ceasefire agreement. It requires Russian-backed separatists to withdraw heavy weapons from the conflict’s front line and create a buffer zone.
The sale of weapons to Ukraine is a response to the failure of the 2015 cease-fire and to the fact that, according the Trump administration’s envoy for the Ukraine crisis, 2017 was the most violent year in the four year history of this conflict.
The sniper systems Trump approved for sale are needed to address a specific vulnerability of Ukrainian forces fighting Russian-backed separatists. A congressional aide told Lifhits:
As the conflict has ground down into trench warfare and small unit exchanges in the no-man’s land between the lines, the role of snipers has become increasingly important.
The Javelin anti-tank missiles are defensive weapons. They would become particularly valuable if the conflicts escalates, as Russia threatens it will. They might also deter an escalation.
The weapon sales can also plausibly be viewed as a means of gaining leverage if Russia wants seriously to negotiate a settlement in Ukraine. Putin has proposed that peacekeepers be deployed but, not surprisingly, there are major disagreements about how and where the peacekeepers would operate. The U.S. and Ukraine want peacekeepers deployed throughout the separatist-controlled regions stretching to the Ukraine-Russia border. Russia, not so much.
In any event, it’s clear that President Trump has moved boldly to advance Ukraine’s interests at the expense of Russia’s, to the displeasure of Putin. I don’t see how this move can be squared with the extreme anti-Trump rhetoric of the foolish Clapper and others who peddle a similarly hysterical line.