United States President Barack Obama is currently in Ukraine on his European tour, which will end in Normandy, France for the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Obama met with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski on Tuesday, and met with world leaders in the G7 summit in Brussels on Wednesday. Today, he is meeting for the first time the Ukrainian president-elect Petro Poroshenko, who due to be inaugurated on Saturday. Amid discussions with leaders about sanctions and democracy, perhaps one of the most surprising turn of events was Obama’s pledge of $5 million in possible military assistance from the U.S. to Ukraine.
The possible U.S. military assistance would include body armor and night-vision goggles, to facilitate Ukraine’s “real war”, as a Ukrainian deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council described the tumultuous situation in eastern Ukraine. The most surprising aspect of this pledge for military assistance is the steadfast resistance Obama had adhered to previous to his European trip of not providing lethal assistance to Ukraine. During the crisis in Crimea, in which Russia annexed the southern peninsula of Ukraine, the U.S. provided non-lethal assistance. A pledge of military equipment places Obama more in step with longstanding demands from certain members of Congress, namely Republicans. One such piece of legislation pushed by Republicans was entitled “Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014,” put forth in May. That piece of legislation proposed providing Ukraine with much more powerful military equipment, including anti-aircraft and anti-tank weaponry.
During the G7 summit, Obama and other world leaders discussed their approach to Russia’s “continuing violation” of Ukrainian sovereignty. The G7, once the G8 before world leaders opted to suspend Russian participation, was originally slated to meet in Sochi, Russia. Kiev and Western leaders accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin and Moscow of inciting and funding the pro-Russian separatists, who are occupying buildings in eastern Ukrainian cities. The separatists have established a “Donetsk People’s Republic” among other rebel groups, claiming independence and defying the recent presidential election which they, along with Putin, believe were unconstitutional due to the ousting of the previous elected Ukrainian President in February.
The leaders at the summit emphasized their continued insistence on their three-step approach towards dealing with Russia. German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the three-step approach as supporting the economy of Ukraine and reaching out to Russia in an effort to cease hostilities in the most peaceful manner possible. If steps one and two continue to falter in restoring relations with Russia and ending violence in eastern Ukraine, the third step could be “tougher sanctions.” The U.S. already has many imposed sanctions against Russian corporations and officials.
Obama expects to encounter Putin at the commemoration of D-Day in Normandy on Friday. Putin will be meeting with some of the G7 leaders following the commemoration, excluding Obama. Meanwhile, escalated fighting continues to take place in eastern Ukraine between Kiev and separatists. On Wednesday, the Ukrainian government announced that 300 rebels were killed in 24 hours in and around the town of Slovyansk. Poroshenko commented on his consideration to declare martial law after his inauguration Saturday. Such a plan would allow evacuation of citizens in embattled areas in the east, and continue to escalate its “antiterrorist” operations.
With Ukraine receiving possible U.S. military assistance, the battle might be favoring Kiev at this point. In Slaviansk, Ukraine, the head of the Russian Orthodox Army Dmitry Boitsov said Putin gave them “false hope,” and that their only possible help would be Russian forces coming to their aid.
By Jesse Eells-Adams