The State Department has confirmed it will be sending anti-tank missiles to Ukraine as part of a security assistance package, marking a drastic change in U.S. policy in the region.
The missiles will be part of a security assistance package designed to help Ukraine defend itself as it battles Russian-backed separatists in its eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The assistance will include various weapons and ammunition, which are "entirely defensive in nature," a State Department spokesperson told Circa. This represents a major change from the Obama administration policy which prevented lethal aid from being sent to Ukraine in its ongoing war.
"The United States has decided to provide Ukraine enhanced defensive capabilities as part of our effort to help Ukraine build its long-term defense capability, to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to deter further aggression," said the spokesperson in an email. "This includes a defensive anti-armor capability, which we will be able to comment further on this matter once Congress has been formally notified."
While the spokesperson was not able to confirm what type of missiles will be included, U.S. Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker told Ukraine's Eurointegration.com.ua website that "Javelins will be part of this help, but there is much more."
The FGM-148 Javelin is a shoulder-fired, anti-armor missile capable of destroying most modern tanks. It's the premier anti-armor missile in the U.S. arsenal, and is highly effective due to its ability to "fire and forget." A soldier using a Javelin can lock on to an enemy tank, fire, and then seek cover in a different position. Once fired, the missile flies high into the air, and then drops on top of its target.
While the Javelin is certainly a formidable weapon, it is unclear how effective it will be in Ukraine. For the past several years, the conflict has been essentially in a stalemate, with most engagements limited to artillery fire exchanges. Most of the tanks Russia has provided the separatists are now used as mobile artillery pieces, which could be outside the three-mile range of the missile system, the Wilson Center's Michael Kofman told the Washington Post in August.
That said, the decision to arm Ukraine with lethal arms is still important as far as U.S. policy is concerned. The Obama administration and other officials were concerned that provided lethal arms would only escalate the situation. Trump took a drastic turn from that policy in December when he signed off on adding weapons to the existing aid to Ukraine.
"As we have always said, Ukraine is a sovereign country and has a right to defend itself," said the State Department spokesperson, adding that the U.S. remains committed to the 2014 and 2015 Minsk agreements which aimed to halt the fighting.
"The resolution to this conflict must be a diplomatic one."