Putin Tells US To Think Twice About Sending Weapons To Ukraine

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the U.S. on Tuesday against sending defensive weapons to Ukraine, suggesting that arms shipments to Kiev could force pro-Russian separatists to escalate the conflict there.

In what Kiev and its Western allies are likely to see as a not-so-veiled threat, Putin implied that Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine would respond to a weapons deal with their own shipments to “other conflict zones.”

“The self-declared [pro-Russian] republics [in eastern Ukraine] have enough weapons, including ones captured from the other side,” Putin told reporters at a news conference in China, according to Reuters. “It’s hard to imagine how the self-declared republics would respond. Perhaps they would deploy weapons to other conflict zones.”

Washington is weighing whether to provide Kiev with advanced defensive weaponry in an effort to break the stalemate in the ongoing war between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed militia groups in the country’s eastern provinces. State and Defense Department leaders say arms shipments would be a reasonable response to Moscow’s support of the pro-Russian forces. (RELATED: Tillerson Takes Shots At Russia In Ukrainian Independence Day Message)

“On the defensive lethal weapons, we are actively reviewing it, I will go back now having seen the current situation and be able to inform the secretary of state and the president in very specific terms what I recommend for the direction ahead,” Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters in Kiev last week, according to Reuters.

“Defensive weapons are not provocative unless you are an aggressor and clearly Ukraine is not an aggressor since it is their own territory where the fighting is happening,” Mattis said.

Kurt Volker, the State Department lead on Ukraine negotiations, has also supported plans to give Kiev weapons, arguing that such a step wouldn’t “provoke Russia to do more than they are already doing” in Ukraine.

The U.S. has sent $750 million in non-lethal aid to Ukraine since 2015, but the White House has yet to decide if it will move forward with shipments of defensive weapons. Opponents of arms deliveries worry that it could upset a fragile ceasefire negotiated last month by the so-called Normandy Four — Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany — that was timed to coincide with the beginning of the school year Sept. 1.

Top Republicans in Congress, on the other hand, argue that giving weapons to Kiev would help contain Russian provocations in eastern Ukraine. GOP Sen. John McCain said last week that arms shipments are an “opportunity for the United States to correct its policy toward Ukraine” after the Obama administration stopped short of providing lethal weapons.

Putin, who denies sending arms to pro-Russian separatists, said Tuesday that U.S. weapons supplies could have the opposite effect.

“The delivery of weapons to a conflict zone doesn’t help peacekeeping efforts, but only worsens the situation,” he said. “Such a decision would not change the situation but the number of casualties could increase.”

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