HALIFAX, Canada — The U.S. and Ukraine are in “close discussion” for Washington to supply another tranche of lethal weapons for Kiev’s fight in eastern Ukraine, where “Russians keep bringing new military technology,” Ukraine’s foreign minister said Saturday.
The remarks from Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin on the sidelines of the Halifax International Security Forum came one day after Klimko met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington, D.C. Pompeo affirmed U.S. support for Ukraine’s nearly four-year conflict with Russia-backed separatists and said America would never accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced in February the imminent delivery of anti-sniper weaponry, including tools for electronic warfare, air defense. Last December, the U.S. announced a $47 million sale of 210 Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine — and the U.S. has reportedly supplied Kiev with Model M107A1 Sniper Systems.
On Saturday, Klimkin confirmed to reporters, “We are in discussions about other pieces of defense equipment,” but declined to get specific.
Speaking separately at the forum on Saturday, Sen. Chris Coons, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the fighting “a frozen conflict” and expressed support for the Trump administration’s decision to provide training and lethal arms to Ukraine.
“I think we can push Russia out of Ukraine,” said Coons, D-Del. “We need to work with our allies to make this a sustained priority.”
Coons said the effort may take decades of pressure, likening it to the Soviet Union’s occupation of the Baltic States, which lasted from the 1940s to the 1990s.
Klimkin said the presence of Russian and Russian-backed forces in the Donbass, "is pretty much constant,” but the presence of U.S.-supplied arms has had an effect.
“It’s an ongoing discussion, because Javelins were important psychologically,” he said. “We have noticed that the Russians [withdrew] their tanks deeper into the occupied area … basically fearing symbolically, psychologically and physically that such [anti-tank] weapons can be used in the case of Russian provocation.”
Russian forces have been moving newer military equipment like signal jammers and drones, along with traditional armaments, into the disputed Donbass region, as observed by international monitors. Four distinct electronic warfare systems were spotted in July by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
By Ukraine’s reckoning, Russian-controlled forces have some 1,400 armored vehicles and tanks in the Donbass, and between 3,000 to 5,000 troops and mercenaries — along with heavy mortars among a range of artillery, which Russia uses for nighttime shelling from hidden positions.
Beyond the Donbass, another flashpoint is the disputed Azov Sea, which borders Russia, Ukraine, and Crimea. Kiev has accused Russia of harassing its ships, and after Kiev interfered with 15 ships headed for Crimean ports, the Kremlin warned it would protect Russian ships.
Ukraine has been moving to build up its defense capabilities in the city of Azov, Klimkin said, as Russia attempts a “creeping annexation” of the sea and delays Ukrainian ships sailing on it, to intimidate and disrupt trade.
“Russian naval capabilities are stronger than ours, but we have to build up,” Klimkin said. “We are very decisive on defending our interests in the Azov Sea, and we can’t let the Russians take control of the whole Azov Sea.
The “Ukrainian army is not the same army as it was five years ago, so I believe we are prepare we are prepared for effective provocations,” he said.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.