The Trump administration signaled Thursday that it plans to sell the Ukrainian government Javelin antitank missiles, a weapon Ukrainian troops could use in combat against Russian-backed separatists.
“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by improving the security of Ukraine,” the State Department’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement. “The Javelin system will help Ukraine build its long-term defense capacity to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity in order to meet its national defense requirements.”
The tentative sale of the weapons, built through a joint venture between Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, comes at a time when President Trump and his supporters argue he is tougher on Russia than former president Barack Obama was. Trump has faced a torrent of criticism for expressing skepticism that Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Numerous Republicans urged Trump to do more to assist Ukrainian troops during his first year in office, with a frequent emphasis on antitank weapons. The shoulder-fired Javelin missile, at nearly four feet long, is designed to be carried on foot and can be launched at ranges of 75 to 2,500 meters, depending on the circumstances, according to defense contractor specifications.
Ukrainian officials have asked the United States to send lethal aid to them for years to counter the separatists. The Obama administration considered it, but ultimately balked, concerned it would prompt an escalation in tensions.
Russian officials warned in December that the United States supplying Ukraine with lethal weapons would cause more bloodshed. They have denied providing support to the separatists, though the United States has long believed Moscow has provided them with equipment and advice, effectively turning them into an irregular army.
“U.S. weapons are capable of leading to new casualties in our neighboring country, and we cannot remain indifferent to that,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said at the time.
Senior U.S. officials have characterized the missiles as defensive weapons.
“As long as no one wants to invade Ukraine, hopefully they won’t have any big impact,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in December of lethal weapons. “They’re defensive weapons.”
Mattis visited Ukraine last summer and said at the time that the Trump administration was reviewing Ukrainian requests for more weapons.
“Despite Russia’s denials, we know they are seeking to redraw international borders by force, undermining the sovereign and free nations of Europe,” Mattis told reporters during a visit to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.