A Ukrainian PTS-2 amphibious assault vehicle from the Ukrainian ship LST Konstantn Olsnanskly (U 042) comes ashore on Tendra Island during an anti-piracy exercise in the Black Sea during exercise Sea Breeze 2010. (MCS3 Kristopher Regan / Navy)
A small team of American military advisers will soon head to Ukraine to assess that embattled nation’s “mid- and long-term needs for defense reform,” a Pentagon official said Thursday.
Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said senior U.S. defense officials met with senior Ukrainian officials earlier this week to discuss “ways our countries could strengthen our long-term defense cooperation to help Ukraine build highly effective armed forces and defense institutions.”
Lainez said that assessment is being viewed as a first step toward helping to “shape and establish an enduring program for future U.S. efforts to support the Ukrainian military through training, education, and assistance.”
Since early March, President Obama has approved more than $23 million in additional defensive security assistance to help the former Soviet republic maintain its borders and sovereignty in the face of provocative moves by Russian military forces on Ukraine’s eastern border and violence fomented by pro-Russian militants inside Ukraine.
Earlier this week, Obama announced he had approved $5 million in body armor, night vision goggles and additional communications equipment for the Ukrainian military.
That is just the latest wave of support; in March, the White House put in motion the delivery of about 300,000 Meals Ready to Eat, and work continues on various other procurement efforts on items ranging from medical supplies to personal troop gear such as helmets, sleeping mats and water purification units, as well as explosive ordnance disposal equipment and handheld radios.
“We are committed fully to getting the assistance to Ukraine as quickly as possible,” Lainez said.
The U.S. aid is not flowing only to Ukraine’s military; American funds also are supporting the purchase of supplies for that nation’s State Border Guard Service, including 20-person shelters, sleeping bags, fuel filter adapters, barbed wire, patrol flashlights, perimeter alarm systems, fuel pumps, concertina wire, vehicle batteries, spare tires, binoculars, excavators, trucks, generators, food storage freezers, field stoves, and communications gear.
“Our focus continues to be on supporting Ukraine economically and diplomatically,” Lainez said. “As the president has said, we do not see a military solution to this crisis. Throughout the review, we’re looking at items with the intent that whatever is approved will stabilize the situation in Ukraine.”
The U.S. moves to shore up Ukraine’s military and border guard forces comes amid continuing simmering tensions between Russia and the U.S. and its European allies. In Brussels on Thursday, Obama and other “Group of Seven” leaders said Russia faces the prospect of new sanctions over its aggression in Ukraine.
Wrapping up a two-day summit earlier Thursday, G-7 members — the U.S., Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada — worked on the Russia plan while urging peace talks between Putin and Ukraine’s President-elect Petro Poroshenko.
Specifically, the G-7 is calling upon Russian President Vladimir Putin to recognize Poroshenko as the new leader of Ukraine, stop shipping arms across the Ukraine-Russia border and stop supporting pro-Russian separatists in his neighboring country.
“Russia needs to seize that opportunity,” Obama said after a private meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron at the end of the summit.
“The next month will be vital in judging if President Putin has taken these steps,” Cameron said before leaving for Paris to personally present the G-7 plan with Putin.
Referring to the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, as well as violence in southern and eastern Ukraine, Cameron said Russia’s actions “are completely unacceptable and totally at odds with the values of this group of democracies.”
Obama said that “if Russia’s provocations continue,” then “the G-7 nations are ready to impose additional costs on Russia” in the form of more sanctions.
The G-7 will help Ukraine and other nations reduce their dependence on Russian energy supplies, Obama said. The allies further vowed to work together to address climate change.
Staff writer Jeff Schogol and USA Today contributed to this report.