By Adam Valavanis ‘17
With the current protests in Baltimore, international crises have been placed on the backburner of the American media and the American public. However, there are still multiple crises that weigh heavily on the Obama Administration; the greatest of which is the crisis in Ukraine. With the fall of Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych, long-time Vladimir Putin ally, the Russian military invaded eastern Ukraine, which houses a large ethnic-Russian population, in early 2014. Soon after, the Donetsk People’s Republic, a separatist Ukrainian government, emerged, with the discrete support of Russia. Ever since, the Ukrainian military and eastern separatist militias have clashed in the Donbass region of Ukraine. Russian military support has allowed the Donetsk People’s Republic to make massive gains in the country, pushing Ukrainian forces back west.
In hopes of reversing the tide, the Ukrainian government has asked and continues to ask the United States to supply it with lethal weaponry. Currently, the United States has given only non-lethal supplies – body armor, night vision goggles and most recently Humvees – to Ukrainian forces. In early February, President Obama stated that supplying lethal weaponry to the Ukrainian military was an option being pursued, much to the dislike of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who hopes to find a diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian crisis. Mr. Obama has been pressed from members of Congress from both parties to ship lethal weapons to Ukrainian forces.
Such action would be foolish and detrimental to the crisis in Ukraine, both economically and politically. The weaponry supplied to Ukrainian forces could easily find its way into the hands of separatist forces. Recent history has shown that the United States often ends up supplying its enemies. In Iraq, the Iraqi military essentially handed over tanks, weaponry and ammunition to the Islamic State (IS), allowing IS to sweep through northern Iraq. Ultimately the U.S. had to intervene, supplying more weapons to groups combating IS and leading an aerial campaign, blowing the tanks it gave to the Iraqi military.
The Ukrainian forces have shown a similar outcome is possible, especially after its retreat from Debaltseve, a strategic city in eastern Ukraine. Separatist forces came into a surplus of operational, Ukrainian-built tanks, vehicles and weaponry that they can now deploy against the Ukrainian military. Dually, separatist forces have captured caches of U.S.-supplied non-lethal supplies, the most recent of which is a mortar-tracking device.
Politically, sending weaponry to the Ukrainian military could trigger an arms race in Ukraine. Attempting to out-supply the U.S., Russia would without a doubt increase their supply of weaponry, and potentially personnel, to separatist forces. Increasing weapon caches in Ukraine would further destabilize the country and has the potential of spilling over the border, destabilizing the region.
By supplying the Ukrainian military with lethal weaponry, the U.S. is shooting itself in the foot, sabotaging the efforts of its European allies who are attempting to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.