Mattis reaffirms support for Ukraine, considers lethal aid to Kiev

Speaking at a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters Thursday the U.S. is actively considering providing lethal military assistance to Ukraine.

A long-planned, bilateral meeting, Mattis visited the capital city of Kiev to discuss current security matters, progress on reforming the country’s military and areas in which cooperation between the two nations can be widened.

Mr. Mattis also met with Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak during his visit.

Describing Russia’s political and military goals in blunt terms and accusing the Kremlin of violating the Minsk Agreement, Mattis said the U.S. would never accept Russian domination over Crimea and vowed to support Kiev’s struggle against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

“Have no doubt, the United States stands with Ukraine.  Despite Russia’s denials, we know they are seeking to redraw international borders by force,” Mattis remarked. 

Mattis’ comments came as Ukraine celebrated its independence from the former Soviet Union, and follows the approval of a further $1.7 million in military upgrades for the Ukrainian military.

Despite a show of solidarity with Ukraine, the most pressing issue discussed was the possibility the U.S. delivering lethal assistance to Kiev.

In measured words, Mattis refused to implicitly state lethal aid was forthcoming, but did refer to Washington weighing “defensive lethal weapons” for Ukraine.

“I needed to come here to better understand the situation, so that I go back and advocate for what I believe you need, as brought to me by Minister of Defense (Stepan Poltorak) and the (Ukrainian) president,” Mattis stated.

Responding to Mattis’ remarks, Russian envoy for Ukraine, Boris Gryzlov, said:

“(The) ambition to acquire lethal weapons . . . is surely going to be perceived in Donbas as a very bad and threatening signal.” 

Expressing similar concerns, Russian separatist leader Oleksandr Zakharchenko told reporters lethal aid would only encourage a massive Ukrainian military offensive and expand the conflict.

 

[RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty] [Kyiv Post] [Photo courtesy AP via Daily Mail]