WASHINGTON ― U.S. President Donald Trump will seek at least another $250 million in security aid for Ukraine in his 2020 budget request to Congress, including lethal Javelin anti-tank weapons, according to a senior Pentagon official.
“Assuming of course the Congress authorizes and appropriates it, we will continue that. We do envision continuing lethal aid assistance to Ukraine," Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood said Wednesday at a roundtable with reporters. That disclosure was unusual so far ahead of the budget request’s formal presentation, typically in February or March.
New Javelins have cleared the congressional approval process, and it is up to Kyiv to formally request the weapons, which Ukrainian officials have hailed in their military’s fight against Kremlin-backed separatists on the front line of the standoff between Russia and the West.
A $39 million sale of 150 anti-tank missiles and two additional missile launchers is pending, on top of the 200 missiles and 37 launchers the U.S. sold Kyiv in 2018, Bloomberg and others reported last month.
Rood denied reports the U.S. had barred Ukrainian troops from using those weapons on the front lines, calling them “not accurate” and arguing that U.S. requirements are aimed at protecting sensitive, American technologies transferred to Ukraine from being diverted to third parties.
“In terms of their usage in the field, there aren’t restrictions on that,” Rood said. “Bear in mind these are defensive weapons, provided with the expectation they will be used for defensive purposes. The intent is to deter Russian aggression.”
All of this year’s $250 million tranche, save for $8.5 million, has been executed, Rood said.
“Our desire, as we’ve moved forward at the Defense Department, has been to work with our Ukrainian colleagues to provide the security assistance as envisioned,” Rood said. “Of the $250 million, a lot has been put on contract for the variety of things envisioned for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.”
American-made medical equipment, night vision devices and counter-mortar radar makes a difference for Ukrainian troops, but it is also at the center of impeachment proceedings playing out against Trump in Washington.
House Democrats on Tuesday formally asserted Trump abused his power, arguing that the president and his allies pressured Ukraine to announce investigations of his political enemies while withholding nearly $400 million in military aid and making a White House meeting with Ukraine’s president conditional on such an announcement. The hold was lifted in September.
Trump and his GOP allies have argued Trump acted appropriately out of concern over Ukraine’s corruption. Trump’s defenders have embraced Russian-fueled conspiracy theories that seek to cast blame on Kyiv rather than Moscow for interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Defense Department officials have rejected Congress’ subpoena for documents related to their role in the decision to delay the aid. On Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee’s 300-page report detailing Democrats’ case for impeaching Trump included a rebuke of Defense Secretary Mark Esper for his refusal to work with the impeachment inquiry.
Rood, who certified formally in a May 23 letter to Congress that the 2019 tranche could be released to Ukraine because it made sufficient anti-corruption progress, said Wednesday that he “never really received a clear explanation” as to why the White House delayed the money over the summer.
“In the weeks after signing the certification, I did become aware that the aid had been held,” Rood told reporters. “I never really received a clear explanation other than there were concerns about corruption in Ukraine as the purpose.”
Rood’s certification, legally required before the aid could be released, asserted Ukraine had taken “substantial actions to make defense institutional reforms for the purpose of decreasing corruption." Rood sidestepped a question about why the Pentagon and the White House had contradicted one another.
“We do believe the Ukrainians have made progress in meeting their defense reform goals and made progress in working on corruption,” he said. “There is more work to be done, significant work to be done. All I can say is that that’s what we’ve been consistent[ly] saying in our public comments and our written correspondence to the Congress and others.”
Rood said he couldn’t recall exactly when he became aware the White House blocked the aid or when he inquired about it. Nor could he recall the details of whether he discussed it with the three officials who held the job of defense secretary ― Patrick Shanahan (acting), Richard Spencer (acting) and Esper ― during Esper’s transition into the job in July.
“You might have noticed there’s a lot of interest in the exact, proper answer [to] these questions, so I can’t tell you from memory the exact dates in June or July where conversations took place,” Rood said.
Joe Gould is the Congress and industry reporter at Defense News, covering defense budget and policy matters on Capitol Hill as well as industry news.