Kremlin Makes Display of “Outrage” over US Decision to Arm Ukraine

December 26, 2017

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov sharply criticized the decision by the United States to begin allowing the sale of certain advanced weapons systems to the Ukrainian armed forces. Ryabkov wrote Saturday (Dec 23) on the Ministry’s official website that “The United States has crossed a line by announcing its intention to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine... Kyiv’s revenge-seekers have already been shelling the Donbass every day and are unwilling to hold peace talks, while dreaming about doing away with the disobedient population. And the U.S. has decided to give them the weapons for it.” Ryabkov’s posted remarks followed news on Friday (Dec 22) reported by the CNN network that the US administration has decided to allow sales of anti-tank missiles to Ukraine to help deter Russian aggression.

We believe that the Kremlin’s conspicious “outrage” over the decision by the Trump administration to finally begin selling some advanced weapons systems to Kyiv is a rather poorly-disguised stage act. The long-standing US concerns in regard to providing such weaponry to Ukraine - first, that Moscow is prepared to match and raise any perceived military escalation by Washington; second, that pro-war elements in Ukraine could be emboldened to try to re-take lost territory; and third, that there is too much corruption in the Ukrainian Defense Ministry to trust it with the hardware - are well-founded. Leaving the latter two points aside for the moment, we think this move indeed provides welcome and immediate cover for the Putin regime to increase its not-so-covert military support for the Donbass separatists. Our view is that any new round of fighting works to Moscow’s advantage since it immediately destabilizes Ukraine’s political situation and decreases economic confidence. Weapons supplies to Kyiv have long been favored by top officials in the Trump administration, most notably the Secretaries of Defense and State, James Mattis and Rex Tillerson, but we suspect that US President Trump himself has little interest in the topic. Although Tillerson has turned out to be a pleasant surprise on Ukrainian issues, reports earlier this month have stated that he will soon be pushed out in favor of current CIA Director Michael Pompeo. Unlike Tillerson, Pompeo is not necessarily in the Republican Party mainstream on foreign policy, and he is much closer to Trump, so his appointment to head the State Department would be negative for Ukraine. The single biggest mystery of Trump’s presidency thus far is whether he is susceptible to some sort of Russian blackmail, and if this is really the case, Ukraine is the most likely place where favors owed to the Kremlin would be called in, as the fate of Ukraine is the single most important geopolitical issue at stake between Washington and Moscow. Overall, we view Washington’s decision to approve weapons sales as perhaps a moral victory, but not one that makes Ukraine any safer.

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