U.S. Selling Arms to Ukraine Could Fuel Conflict, Russia Says

The U.S. decision to supply weapons to Ukraine can be termed as a move that could create new tensions in the region as it encourages the local government to use force in eastern part of the country, Russian officials have said.

Late last month the U.S. State Department said the United States would provide Ukraine with “enhanced defensive capabilities”. The Russian foreign ministry reacted, saying that the U.S. decision once again undermines the Minsk agreements. The deals, intended to end the fighting in Ukraine, were signed by Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France in the Belarussian capital in early 2015.

According to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, the United States has crossed a line when it announced its intention to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine.

“Now the deliveries will not be carried out under U.S. companies’ business contracts, as it has been happening for a long time, but under state contracts. They will start with the Javelin missile systems. The question is: what will happen next? In any case, U.S. weapons can lead to new victims in our neighboring country, and we cannot remain indifferent,” Ryabkov said in a recent statement.

“…the US is clearly pushing them to new bloodshed. Kiev’s revanchists are already shelling Donbass every day, refusing to negotiate peacefully and dreaming of cracking down on the disobedient people by force. Now the United States decided to give them weapons for this. Unfortunately, it is a waste of time to urge American politicians to see reason. Many of them are so blinded by Russophobia that they are happily applauding the Ukrainian nationalist battalions,” claimed Ryabkov who handles the USA as part of his portfolio.

So far, at least, the arms deal has yet to aggravate hostilities along the front lines in eastern Ukraine. The two sides of the conflict, in fact, went through with a major prisoner swap just days after the United States announced the decision. According to a recent analysis by Stratfor, should the United States or the European Union take further punitive action against Russia, or make more moves in the security sphere that it considers aggressive, then the Kremlin will fire back as it sees fit.

The accusations against the U.S. may not be the extent of Russia’s reaction. Moscow, for example, could respond to the move in kind by ramping up its support for the separatists in Donbas to ensure they have capabilities on par with those of the Ukrainian military.

On Jan. 10, a member of the Ukrainian parliament said the Russian military was working on technology to shield vehicles from Javelin missiles. Beefing up the separatists’ arsenal may be the best option for Russia to respond to the U.S.-Ukraine lethal weapons deal without making relations with the United States much worse.

In addition, Moscow could opt for an asymmetric response. Russia could use the hybrid tactics it routinely employs against Ukraine — including targeted assassinations of security forces and officials, cyber attacks, economic restrictions, and political manipulation — to put more pressure on the country and its Western backers. It could even apply these methods outside Ukraine, for instance in Syria or in the European borderlands, to retaliate against the United States for increasing support to the Ukrainian government. Russia, after all, has followed a similar strategy many times in the past.