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Top U.S. Democrat Calls For Lethal Aid For Ukraine

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tries out a tank on July 26.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tries out a tank on July 26.

A leading Democrat in the U.S. Senate has called for giving the Ukrainian military "defensive" lethal aid, a move that President Barack Obama has thus far refused.

Senator Carl Levin (Democrat-Michigan), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said after a classified briefing on July 30 on Ukraine that the aid should not be "provocative" but could include antiarmor, ammunition, and surface-to-air missiles.

Obama ruled out military aid on July 29, saying that "the issue at this point is not the Ukrainian capacity to outfight separatists."

The Ukrainians "are better armed than the separatists," he added. "The issue is how do we prevent bloodshed in eastern Ukraine. We're trying to avoid that."

Levin rejected the administration's explanation.

"What the president said yesterday is not satisfactory to me, when he said that 'we're hoping for a peaceful outcome.' Obviously we are. But you've got Russian troops on the border," he said.

Levin added, "I don't think it's defensible to draw a line between lethal and nonlethal, as to what type of assistance we provide," adding that the line should be between "nonprovocative" and "provocative" weapons.

Several Republican lawmakers, including Senators John McCain (Republican-Arizona), Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina), and Kelly Ayotte (Republican-New Hampshire), have called for sending lethal aid to Ukraine, but such calls from Democrats are much rarer.

Graham echoed Levin's call for lethal aid, adding: "I have never seen such bipartisan concern about our approach to the Ukraine than I saw in there today."

He said the Ukrainians were asking for "everything from F-16s to Humvees," but that the F-16s would clearly not go to Ukraine "anytime soon."

McCain said the Ukrainians wanted light weapons and antiarmor.

The United States has thus far provided $33 million in nonlethal aid to Ukraine.

Ukrainians have reportedly requested lethal aid as early as March.

Ukraine Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey expressed his country's interest for "additional security assistance" in a call on July 28 to U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, according to the Pentagon.

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