Earlier this week, speaking with members of the Ukrainian-American community in New York, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko suggested that US-Ukrainian military cooperation over the past two-and-a-half years has demonstrated that Ukraine can be trusted with US lethal weaponry. Noting that Ukraine's "new professional army" does not conduct "wars of conquest," Poroshenko emphasized that Americans should feel it "absolutely safe to provide lethal weapons" to his country. "We will fight for our land to the last drop of blood," the president added.
If approved by the Senate, the bill would land on President Barack Obama's desk for signature. Accordingly, Russian experts are asking whether the White House would really be irresponsible enough to take such a step, which could reignite the deadly civil war that has ravaged eastern Ukraine's Donetsk and Lugansk regions over the past two years.
Speaking to the independent online newspaper Svobodnaya Pressa, Dr. Mikhail Alexandrov, a senior expert at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations' Center for Military-Political Studies, suggested that Russia would have been naive to expect anything less from US lawmakers.
"From the outset, Western officials assumed that the Minsk agreements meant that Russia would quietly give up Donbass under the guise of implementing these agreements. This is precisely what they are demanding from us," the analyst noted. "Russia has a completely different understanding of Minsk, which includes a decentralized Ukraine, the creation of a real democracy, instead of the pro-Western one [which] engages in the violent suppression of all anti-Western forces."
"However, I am convinced that Western countries will continue to play on Kiev's side, helping to keep the regime afloat via all sorts of handouts…And the small amounts of money required can always be found – it's not a problem."
Suggesting that much is riding on the November elections in the US, Alexandrov noted that "perhaps some new arrangements can be made if [Donald] Trump makes it into the White House. Otherwise, it will be necessary to take some radical decisions – to prevent any further attempts to use Ukraine as a strike force against Russia."
The analyst noted that if Washington does decide to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine, it will be a violation of the Minsk agreements, "since it will factually encourage Kiev to conduct combat operations. It would be the type of escalation against which Western countries have so strongly advocated against, at least verbally."
As for the bill's proposal to effectively sanction Russia indefinitely over Crimea, the analyst suggested that he can only welcome such measures. "I think that the more sanctions Western countries place on us, the better, since this cuts off the ability of any pro-Western elites in Russia to take the country in the wrong direction." Continued sanctions "would allow us to develop independently, and to build relationships with those countries which truly want to work with us…"
Sergei Markov, the director of the Moscow-based Institute of Political Studies, emphasized that Congress's decision was extremely dangerous, since it puts tens of thousands of lives at risk. "We shouldn't forget that lethal weapons have that name for a reason – their main purpose is to kill. For this reason, this is really a law promoting mass war crimes" in eastern Ukraine.
Ultimately, the political scientist noted that Russia's position throughout the conflict in Eastern Ukraine has been too soft and diplomatic. Russian diplomats, in his view, need to emphasize that the government in Kiev has engaged in war crimes against its own population, and that providing it with lethal weapons would be a huge mistake.