The White House promised Wednesday to send $75 million in non-lethal military aid to Ukraine, but that will likely do little to quiet the growing call from lawmakers of both parties and key members of the Obama administration to send weapons and equipment to help the country ward off Russian advances.
"This aid will be completely ineffective," Cory Fritz, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, told Politico
. "The Ukrainians are begging for help, and the Congress is begging the administration to provide the defensive lethal assistance we authorized in December. Our allies deserve better."
On Wednesday, the Obama administration announced the non-lethal aid plan, which will include providing radios, surveillance drones and light equipment, along with up to 200 unarmored Humvees and 30 with armor. In addition, Secretary of State John Kerry announced a new wave of sanctions from the Treasury Department.
But Democrats have also been complaining about the lack of lethal equipment being approved for Ukraine, saying it won't help that nation's military fight back.
"Providing non-lethal equipment like night vision goggles is all well and good, but giving the Ukrainians the ability to see Russians coming but not the weapons to stop them is not the answer," said New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, during a committee hearing this week on the issue, reports Politico.
Both Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey have said they would consider providing "lethal aid" to Ukraine, marking a divide between the White House and the Pentagon over the region.
Last week, Boehner asked President Barack Obama
in a letter to approve of the lethal weapons for Ukraine. In addition to bearing the signatures of GOP party leaders and chairmen, the top Democrats from the House Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence committees also signed the document.
Lawmakers are also concerned about comments made by Peter Wittig, the German ambassador to the United States, who told The Associated Press that Obama agreed to hold of on the lethal weapons after meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"The fact that it appears that the president may have made a commitment to Angela Merkel while she was here, or the German ambassador, to not do that certainly has created a lot of concern on both sides of the aisle," Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, said Wednesday. "What Secretary Kerry said today is welcome, but we know we need to do far more to be successful."
On Tuesday, several senators complained during a meeting of Corker's committee that the Obama administration had not acted to arm Ukraine, including Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who said he doesn't "buy this argument that, you know, us supplying the Ukrainians with defensive weapons is going to provoke Putin."
But Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European affairs, told the committee that the administration provided $355 million in foreign aid for Ukraine, and has included another $514 million in its 2016 budget plan.
Further, she said, the second agreement in Minsk, reached between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany, ended with some of the Russian separatist heavy weapons being removed. However, she admitted that Russian tanks and other equipment have been transferred into eastern Ukraine.
Some Democrats, like Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin said that President Barack Obama's decision to send the nonlethal equipment was a strong signal for Ukraine and Russia, but insisted "more can and must be done."
Congress last year approved the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, authorizing up to $350 million for defensive weapons, prompting more legislation, including a bipartisan bill from House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, and ranking Democrat Adam Smith providing $1 billion annually in defensive weapons for Ukraine.
Also, 13 senators are looking at the appropriations process to include funding for weapons authorized in the December bill, reports Politico.
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