US releases $200 million in defensive aid to Ukraine
In a move likely to irk Moscow, the Pentagon has released $200 million in security assistance to Ukraine just days after the Russian Ministry of Defense said it was ready to work with the US Department of Defense on a range of security issues following a meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and amid concerns the US President had not been tough enough with his Russian counterpart at their meeting in Helsinki, Finland.
The release of the money was confirmed Friday in a statement posted by the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington.
Maj. Sheryll Klinkel, a Pentagon spokesperson, later confirmed to CNN that the $200 million in security assistance had been provided.
The funds are intended to enhance Ukraine’s command and control, situational awareness systems, secure communications, military mobility, night vision and military medical treatment, a US defense official told CNN.
The official said the funding will provide equipment to support ongoing training programs and operational needs, including counter-artillery and counter-mortar radars, high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles, night vision devices, electronic warfare detection, secure communications and medical equipment.
The newly released money was part of the US defense budget but its release was contingent on Ukraine passing a series of defense reforms to help bring the country’s defense practices into line with modern standards and practices.
The Trump administration decided that Ukraine’s passage of a new national security law, signed by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on July 5, met the requirements enshrined in the US legislation, thereby allowing the Pentagon to release the funds.
Full implementation of the Ukrainian law “will further deepen Ukraine’s Western integration,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement after the law was enacted.
“The United States stands ready to continue supporting Ukraine’s defense and security sector reforms to bolster Ukraine’s ability to defend its territorial integrity,” Nauert added.
“This is good news, and it sends a clear message that America stands with the Ukrainian people in their struggle to secure a democratic, prosperous and independent future in the face of Russian aggression,” Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio told CNN.
Portman, a longtime advocate for security assistance to Ukraine added that “the release of these funds marks another important milestone toward fulfilling America’s promise to stand with Ukraine.”
The US has provided Ukraine with more than $1 billion in security assistance since 2014 as it has sought to bolster the country’s military which is facing an ongoing conflict with separatists in the country’s east, forces the Pentagon believes are backed, armed and even led by Moscow.
On Friday the Trump administration ruled out the possibility of supporting a referendum on creating an independent Eastern Ukraine in areas that are under the control of armed groups backed by Moscow.
“The Administration is not considering supporting a referendum in the eastern Ukraine,” National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said in a statement.
“The Minsk Agreements are the process for resolving the conflict in the Donbas, and these agreements do not include any option for referendum. Furthermore, to organize a so-called referendum in a part of Ukraine which is not under government control would have no legitimacy,” he added.
Earlier this month, the US and Ukrainian militaries co-hosted a major exercise known as Sea Breeze 18, which involved two US Navy warships and some 850 American sailors and Marines.
The Russian Foreign Ministry slammed the exercise, calling it “another attempt to provoke tension” in the region.
Hundreds of US National Guardsmen are in western Ukraine as part of an effort aimed at training and mentoring Ukrainian army units.
Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014, a move that was slammed in a communique issued by NATO leaders following their summit in Brussels, Belgium, last week.
“Russia is challenging the rules-based international order by destabilizing Ukraine including through the illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea; it is violating international law, conducting provocative military activities, and attempting to undermine our institutions and sow disunity,” the communique said.
A spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Defense said Tuesday that his country was ready for the “implementation of the agreements reached between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump” following the two leaders’ Monday meeting in Helsinki.
The Russian military “is ready to intensify contacts with the US colleagues in the General Staff and other available channels to discuss the extension of the START treaty, cooperation in Syria, as well as other issues of ensuring military security,” spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said.
A US defense official told CNN that Secretary of Defense James Mattis is open to talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, but that there are currently no plans for such a conversation.