On Ukraine, Will Obama Heed Call for Caution?

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On Ukraine, Will Obama Heed Call for Caution?

Ignoring threat of nuclear war, warhawks on both side of the aisle continue to push to send weapons to Ukraine

President Obama meeting with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko on Sept. 18, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama meeting with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko on Sept. 18, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Despite mounting pressure from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, sources close to the president say that he appears to be—for the time being—standing by his decision to not send arms to Ukraine.

President Obama is concerned that by arming the Ukrainians he would be "playing to Russia's strength," an argument recently made by Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The New York Times, speaking with people close to the president, reported on Wednesday that "he has told aides and visitors that arming the Ukrainians would encourage the notion that they could actually defeat the far more powerful Russians, and so it would potentially draw a more forceful response from Moscow." Further, Obama wants to allow the shaky cease-fire, which was agreed on in Minsk last month, a chance to take hold.

"Mr. Obama continues to pose questions indicating his doubts," the Times continues, "'O.K., what happens if we send in equipment—do we have to send in trainers?' said one person paraphrasing the discussion on the condition of anonymity. 'What if it ends up in the hands of thugs? What if Putin escalates?'"

Obama's reluctance contrasts the opinions of other lawmakers and officials, who in recent days have continued to push for sending armaments.

A bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday sent a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee chair Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and ranking member Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) calling for the allocation of $350 million for the U.S. to provide weapons to Ukraine's military.

"We fully support the authorization provided under the Ukraine Freedom Support Act to provide defensive weapons to the Government of Ukraine. Congress can send an important message to Ukraine, the Kremlin, and the world by appropriating the authorized funding in accordance with the law," read the letter, which the Hill reports was signed by 11 Republicans and two Democrats. 

The letter follows another communication sent last week to Obama from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and a group of top Democrats and Republicans which urged the president to "quickly approve additional efforts to support Ukraine's efforts to defend its sovereign territory, including through the transfer of lethal defense weapons systems to the Ukrainian military."

Also last week, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. should "absolutely considering" arming Ukraine, a plea that has been echoed by other war hawks including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Meanwhile, NATO allies including German Chancellor Angela Merkel have voiced strong opposition to sending arms.

As investigative reporter Robert Parry continues to warn anyone willing to listen, Russia possess some 8,000 nuclear warheads, roughly matching the U.S. arsenal, while the two countries together have around 1,800 missiles "ready to launch at nearly a moment’s notice."

"Baiting the Russian bear may seem like great fun to the tough-talking politicians in Washington, "Parry wrote last week," but this hostile rhetoric could be taken more seriously in Moscow."

The Obama administration has already committed to sending Ukraine $118 million in nonlethal aid, such as night-vision goggles and counter-mortar radar. On Tuesday, officials told a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that roughly half of that has been delivered. More shipments are expected to be announced as soon as Wednesday, while the administration reportedly is planning to approve another $120 million of similar aid, the Times reports.

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