Rich’s excellent column on Obama’s fecklessness in the face of Putin’s Ukraine aggression notes that the president has resisted not only causing real pain to Russia’s economy but providing the Ukrainian military with the weapons it needs to defend its sovereign territory and defeat Putin’s thugs. On the latter, Charles Krauthammer made similar observations here.
Meanwhile, the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake reports that among the defensive assets our government has denied Ukraine is “radar jamming and detection equipment necessary to evade and counter [Russian] anti-aircraft systems.” Last month, when it became clear that Moscow was providing the anti-aircraft systems to the Russia-backed rebels, Kiev asked this equipment. Last week, one of those systems was used to shoot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, killing 298 people.
I do not think the president’s opposition to arming Ukraine is explained by his intentional American decline, his stated desire that the conflict not escalate (as if Ukrainian weakness somehow discourages Putin’s aggression), or the risible suggestion—advanced by Obama’s former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton—that Russian operatives shooting planes out of the sky is Europe’s problem.
We should be arming the Ukrainians not only because it is in our national interest to repel Putin’s ambitions, but also because we are the ones who disarmed the Ukrainians. Yet, that goes a long way toward explaining the president’s reluctance: as I’ve pointed out before, the American government official who was at the forefront of disarming Ukraine was none other than Senator Barack Obama. The Daily Mail had the report back in March:
As a U.S. senator, Barack Obama won $48 million in federal funding to help Ukraine destroy thousands of tons of guns and ammunition – weapons which are now unavailable to the Ukrainian army as it faces down Russian President Vladimir Putin during his invasion of Crimea. In August 2005, just seven months after his swearing-in, Obama traveled to Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine with then-Indiana Republican Senator Dick Lugar, touring a conventional weapons site. The two met in Kiev with President Victor Yushchenko, making the case that an existing Cooperative Threat Reduction Program covering the destruction of nuclear weapons should be expanded to include artillery, small arms, anti-aircraft weapons, and conventional ammunition of all kinds. After a stopover in London, the senators returned to Washington and declared that the U.S. should devote funds to speed up the destruction of more than 400,000 small arms, 1,000 anti-aircraft missiles, and more than 15,000 tons of ammunition.
A press release from then-Senator Lugar’s office included then-Senator Obama’s puerile proclamation that eliminating Ukraine’s stocks of conventional weapons would ensure “the safety of the Ukrainian people and people around the world, by keeping them out of conflicts around the world.” Rearming Ukraine now would underscore how wrong he was. That political embarrassment is a big reason why he refuses to do what needs to be done.