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Saakashvili Urges U.S. To Send Ukraine Weapons

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili speaks onstage at the 2014 Concordia Summit in New York in September 2014.
Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili speaks onstage at the 2014 Concordia Summit in New York in September 2014.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, now serving as an adviser to the administration of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, has called on the United States to provide Ukraine with lethal military weapons.

Speaking at a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on March 4, Saakashvili said Ukraine needs arms, such as antitank weapons, for protection against what he described as a Russian military advance.

Saakashvili told the U.S. lawmakers: "Only the swift and immediate action of the U.S. government to train and equip the Ukrainians can stop Putin’s strategy to deconstruct the transatlantic architecture, to deconstruct the post-Cold War order."

He said that without weaponry, there will be no country of Ukraine.

The former Georgian president also rebutted the argument that the United States should work with Europeans on the issue, saying that Germany was unlikely to agree to provide Kyiv with weaponry.

U.S. President Barack Obama is still considering whether to provide military weaponry to Kyiv.

Victoria Nuland, the U.S. assistant secretary for European affairs, said Obama had asked U.S. agencies for advice on how to arm Ukrainian government forces.

"These issues are still under review internally, including the types of equipment...that would respond directly to some of the Russian supply," she told a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on March 4.

Many U.S. lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic parties support the idea of sending defensive weaponry to Ukraine.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel opposes the idea.

Saakashvili said that while economic sanctions against Russia over its role in Ukraine are "always helpful," sanctions alone may be a risky policy because Russian President Vladimir Putin may try to seize more Ukrainian territory in order to have a bargaining chip and negotiate out of sanctions.

The former Georgian president compared Ukraine to the strategic importance of West Berlin during the Cold War.

He said: "Ukraine is the West Berlin of today, and it's much more protectable than West Berlin ever was."

Saakashvili also predicted Russia would try to seize more territory in southern and eastern Ukraine and that it would try to depose the government in Kyiv.

Saakashvili was president when Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in August 2008.

The March 4 committee hearing where Saakashvili spoke was conducted by Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, and attended by four other senators.

Russian opposition figure Garry Kasparov also spoke to the lawmakers, along with three U.S. experts.

Kasparov said Putin was very successful at using negotiations for his own purposes, "but has no interest in any settlement."

He said Putin's goal is to destroy the international order that was created after World War II and at the end of the Cold War.

Kasparov said: "Putin rebuilt a police state in Russia in full view of the outside world, and now he is confident enough of his power to attempt to export that police state abroad: to Georgia, to Ukraine, to Moldova. Where next?"

He accused Putin of having a direct role in the killing of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov near the Kremlin just hours before Nemtsov reportedly planned to release evidence that Russian military forces are fighting in eastern Ukraine.

"Boris Nemtsov was killed because he could be killed," Kasparov said. "Putin and his elites believe that after 15 years in power, there is nothing they cannot do, no line they cannot cross. Their sense of impunity, combined with the atmosphere of hatred and violence Putin’s propaganda has created in Russia, is a lethal combination."

Kasparov also said: "The Western engagement policy that should have been abandoned as soon as Putin showed his true colors over a decade ago was continued at every turn, which emboldened Putin and delegitimized [Russia's political] opposition movement."

Putin continues to deny sending weapons and Russian troops into eastern Ukraine, despite daily evidence that Russian forces are directing and directly supporting pro-Russian separatists from within Ukrainian territory.

Saakashvili accused Putin of sending troops into eastern Ukraine from Russia's Far East regions after complaints from a growing number of parents of soldiers from Moscow and St. Petersburg who were told that their sons have died in on-base accidents in Russian territory.

The former Georgian president said the deployments from Russia's Far East are proof that the Kremlin is sensitive to the rising "costs for Putin's invasion" of eastern Ukraine because Russians have "a very thin layer of tolerance" for human casualties.

With reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Luke Johnson and Reuters
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