WASHINGTON — A senior GOP senator calls the White House's Ukraine policy "feckless" as a State Department official says Moscow is sending more heavy weapons across the border.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., used that description of the Obama administration's reaction to the Moscow-backed rebellion during a Tuesday hearing.
"Pretty evident that we're not going to do much" beyond "statements," Corker said after listening to testimony from four Obama administration officials.
A senior German official said the Obama administration has quietly let European allies know the US is unlikely to provide any new kinds of military aid to Ukraine, according to Corker.
The chairman said the US agreed to defend Ukraine when it gave up its nuclear weapons in the 1990s. He then, clearly frustrated, proclaimed the Obama administration's actions to do so "feckless."
While asking them to clearly explain the administration's policy on giving Ukraine defensive weapons, Committee Ranking Member Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., told them "I don't get it."
Menendez noted America has shipped gear such as night-vision goggles to government forces. Helping Ukrainian forces see better at night "is one thing," he said, adding those troops need hardware like anti-tank systems
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., offered an anecdote from former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili: Russia will back down if it believes in a true show of military force.
"You cannot do that with blankets," Johnson said in a swipe at the kinds of aid Washington has provided.
Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., said the Obama administration's approach is part of a broader "era" in which America's allies have lost trust and its foes have lost fear.
Corker accused the White House of "playing footsie with Russia" rather than standing up to the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Brian McKeon, principal defense undersecretary for policy, told the committee the administration's internal study on providing offensive lethal weapons to Ukraine is ongoing. He could not give the members any sense of when it might be completed.
Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland provided new information about US intelligence on the situation in Ukraine. She told the panel Russia has in recent days been moving tanks, rocket equipment and armored vehicles into Ukraine.
McKeon expanded on that point, saying "Russia continues to operate in Eastern Ukraine." Moscow is providing various kinds of military support and has positioned its own "tactical groups" near its border with Ukraine.
"But when they may make another move, I don't think anyone can say," he said.
Nuland also said since a Feb. 15 ceasefire agreement, European monitors have detected "hundreds of violations."
"Debaltseve, a key rail hub beyond the ceasefire lines, fell to the separatists and Russian forces six days after Minsk was signed and three days after the ceasefire was to come into effect," Nuland said. "In Shchastya, in villages near the Donetsk Airport, in Shyrokyne and other towns around Mariupol the shelling continues."
Under questioning from Johnson, Nuland described Putin's objective as trying to keep countries in Eastern Europe "in his political and economic zone."
Notably, the panel's chairman suggested the Russian strongman also might not see a military outcome in Ukraine.
Corker said Putin's "biggest victory" would be for Ukraine to fall into his sphere, not via the Moscow-backed rebellion, but through an economic and political breakdown.