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U.S. Ambassador: Ukraine Asks To Buy More Javelin Missiles

A Ukrainian soldier rides with a Javelin anti-tank missile as he takes part in a rehearsal of a military parade in downtown Kyiv in August 2018.
A Ukrainian soldier rides with a Javelin anti-tank missile as he takes part in a rehearsal of a military parade in downtown Kyiv in August 2018.

KYIV -- A senior U.S. official says Ukraine has requested to purchase more Javelin anti-tank missiles from the United States, a move that is likely to anger Moscow amid a four-year conflict that pits Russia-backed separatists against Ukraine's forces.

William Taylor, charge d'affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, told RFE/RL in an interview that Ukraine would acquire the Javelins from the U.S. Defense Department's Foreign Military Sales program for defensive purposes as the violence continues in a war that has killed more than 13,000 people.

"They would like to buy more Javelins," he said.

Taylor's comments are the first confirmation of Ukraine's desire to add to its stock of 210 Javelin missiles and 37 launchers that the United States provided in April 2018.

The office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy declined to comment on the request and the Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for information.

Taylor announced on July 7 that Ukraine had formally requested to purchase U.S. military equipment for the first time, but he and the embassy did not specify which equipment.

Zelenskiy confirmed to RFE/RL during an EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv on July 8 that a request had been sent to Washington, but he declined to name the arms and other military equipment he hopes to purchase.

Since 2014, Washington has provided Ukraine with about $1.5 billion of military support. The Defense Department announced in June that it would provide $250 million for Ukraine to acquire sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, counter-artillery radar, and night-vision equipment, among other items.

The support came after Russia seized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and fomented what is Europe's only active war in the eastern Donbas region, now in its sixth year.

Russia has provided military, economic, financial, and political support to the separatist fighters who it controls in parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, and members of its regular military have participated in key battles during the conflict, evidence shows.

The Javelin missile systems delivered to Ukraine last year are meant to be used in the event of a large-scale escalation in the war and not for offensive purposes, U.S. and Ukrainian officials have said. Another shipment of Javelins would further enhance Ukraine's ability to defend itself against a potential attack.

Ukraine's purchase request comes after Zelenskiy, who defeated former President Petro Poroshenko to win the presidency in April, promised to seek an end to the war and said he would engage Russian President Vladimir Putin in an attempt to do so.

Zelenskiy and Putin spoke by phone on July 11, suggesting that both sides may be ready to engage in talks that had stalled during Poroshenko's tenure.

The purchase request also comes amid a recommitment to a cease-fire in the Donbas region that has existed mainly in name only since 2015, but which has seen fighting decrease significantly since July 21, according to international monitors.

It is being considered ahead of an expected meeting at the White House between Zelenskiy and President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly expressed interest in enhancing relations with Putin's Russia and said less about Washington's alliance with Ukraine.

Zelenskiy told Interfax-Ukraine on August 3 that the meeting "should be held in September."

The meeting could provide an opportunity for the leaders to patch things up after Zelenskiy declined to meet with Trump's personal attorney, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who had planned to visit Kyiv to discuss unsubstantiated claims of Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Should the purchase request be approved during what would be Trump's and Zelenskiy's first in-person meeting, it would send a strong message that Washington remains committed to backing Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression while allowing Trump, who has been wary of providing arms for free, to boast of a two-way deal.