WASHINGTON — Congress is poised to allow the sale of coastal defense and anti-ship weapons as part of future security assistance packages to Ukraine, through the 2020 defense policy bill.
The National Defense Authorization Act passed the House this week and is expected to be passed in the Senate next week; President Donald Trump announced he will sign the sweeping policy bill.
The change comes as U.S. military aid is at the center of impeachment proceedings playing out against Trump in Washington. The impeachment has dragged Ukraine into the spotlight at a time the European nation continues to struggle with ongoing military activities from Russia.
Speaking at the German Marshall Fund on Friday, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, indicated that the weapons would be ideal fits for a pair of Island-class patrol boats Ukraine has received from Washington.
Those boats were “supplied without anything on them,” said Kuleba, the first member of the current Ukrainian government to visit Washington. “So we will continue working on obtaining more boats of that class, and hopefully with some of the equipment you mentioned.”
Kuleba added that he had overall positive meetings with members of both chambers of Congress, as well as a trio of meetings with administration officials. He said the latter were “constructive, put it that way, in the sense that NDAA is adopted, the president will sign it and we will be working with the administration on making sure these provisions become reality.”
The Ukrainian official acknowledged that his visit comes at a unique time for Washington, with discussions between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky forming the core of an impeachment push by Democratic lawmakers. But Kuleba argued that Ukraine provides a useful security partner for the U.S. and its NATO allies, particularly along the Black Sea, and expressed his belief that the impeachment situation should not impact the relationship between the two nations.
“We don’t want to be shamed and named. We just want a fair, balanced look at what Ukraine has accomplished, where Ukraine stands, and where Ukraine is moving to. On all three points I believe we have no fundamental differences with the United States,” he said. “Ukraine is a natural ally for the United States in the world. In the global struggle for power that we are observing now, Ukraine is part of this world now.”
The language authorizing the missile sales coincides with similar legislation proposed in May by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and ranking member Michael McCaul, R-Texas.
In a statement Friday, Engel called the additional assistance vital to Ukraine’s security as it stand against defend against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to undermine its sovereignty and territorial integrity: “Ukraine is on the front lines of the fight against Russian influence and Russian aggression ... I am proud that Congress continues to maintain its strong, bipartisan consensus in its support to Ukraine.
The U.S. has committed more than $1.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since 2014, when Russian-backed separatists began driving tanks through eastern Ukraine. That funding has included sniper rifles, Humvees, unarmed drones, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, counter-artillery radars, electronic warfare detection and secure communications, night vision equipment, and military medical supplies and treatment.
The only missiles cleared for sale to Ukraine have been Javelin man-portable anti-tank weapons.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.