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EUCOM chief: US should provide weapons to Ukraine

Commander of the U.S. European Command Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti testifies during a Senate Committee on Armed Services hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday, March 23, 2017. In his prepared statement assessing the risks and challenges in the EUCOM theater, Scaparrotti noted that "Russia has repeatedly violated international agreements and treaties that underpin European peace and stability."

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 28, 2017

WASHINGTON — The United States should provide weapons to the Ukrainian military to support its fight against Russian-backed rebels, the top American general in Europe told lawmakers on Tuesday.

“I personally believe that we need to consider lethal defensive weapons for Ukraine,” Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti said in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.

The United States already has the authorization to provide such weaponry to Ukraine, which has been fighting a Russian proxy force in the eastern regions of its country since 2014. Congress included the provision in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act as part of a more than $150 million package to aid Ukraine, but President Barack Obama’s administration declined to provide any lethal weapons.

Instead, the U.S. military has provided American troops to train Ukrainians and non-lethal equipment including Humvees.

Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but the United States and other NATO allies have backed the nation as it has faced near-constant fighting since Russian-backed separatist forces annexed Crimea. The United States has accused Russia of supplying its own forces and modern weapons in the ongoing war that has killed nearly 10,000 people. Scaparrotti has visited Ukraine twice since he become the chief of U.S. European Command in May 2016. He said Tuesday that the Ukrainian military would welcome additional American support in its fight against “a very lethal, tough enemy.”

“I am very impressed with [Ukraine’s] military and its discipline,” he said. “What we have provided them … is being well used, and they are very eager in terms of their ability to learn more.”

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President Donald Trump’s administration has not presented a clear policy on the conflict in Ukraine. On the campaign trail, Trump, who has said he supports closer ties to Russia, called the conflict in Ukraine a European problem that America should avoid.

Scaparrotti said Tuesday that he had yet to speak directly with Trump.

The general said Russia has used Ukraine, like Syria, as a testing ground for its latest military equipment. Among systems that Russia has tested there are drones that guide artillery fire.

Critics of arming Ukraine, including some in Obama’s administration, cite concerns that additional weapons in the region could further inflame the conflict.

Under the NDAA, the United States is authorized to provide anti-armor weapons, mortars, grenade launchers and small arms to Ukraine.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said he was pleased to hear Scaparrotti supported arming the Ukrainians.

“I’ve been there twice, and they’re begging for something to fight with,” Rogers said Tuesday. “This is a life or death battle for them.”

Scaparrotti, who listed Russia among the greatest threats challenging American and European security, also called for a whole-of-government approach to countering Russia’s aggression in the region.

Diplomacy is the most important aspect to avoiding conflict with Russia and maintaining American interests in the region, he said.

Nonetheless, the general wants to add more U.S. troops and combat power in Europe.

The current force of about 62,000 troops is capable of deterring Russia now, Scaparrotti said. But it would be limited in its ability to respond if Russia were to grow more aggressive.

Scaparrotti said he would like to see the addition of an armored division and a full-time aircraft carrier support group into the region, but he primarily needs increased intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

“We need to ensure we build a force that is relevant to that threat and that can deter further aggression,” he told House lawmakers. “To deter properly, I have to be able to have a good base line of Russia[‘s capabilities], in particular, so I know when things change and can posture my forces properly.”

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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