The Defense Department has not changed its mind about providing lethal arms to Ukraine’s military, an official said Tuesday.
“We continue to evaluate all Ukrainian requests for military aid and assistance but right now the focus remains on nonlethal,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said during a briefing.
He said “nothing has changed about the nonlethal assistance we continue to flow to Ukrainian armed forces and security forces.”
Kirby’s comments come the day before Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, will visit Ukraine for discussions with senior political and military leaders.
Earlier on Tuesday Reuters reported that officials in Kiev believe Russia is sending heavy equipment over the border to bolster pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine.
“The Russian side is continuing to provide the terrorist organizations of the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics with heavy armaments,” a foreign ministry spokesman told the new agency.
The U.S. has committed nearly $320 million in assistance to Ukraine this year in nonlethal military assistance. President Obama has so far been unwilling to provide Ukraine with weapons it has requested because of concerns the action would further provoke Russia.
However, last week deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken told Senate lawmakers that the administration is considering providing lethal arms to Ukraine, a move members of both parties have clamored over the last several months.
“Part of the reason has been that in our judgment, as much as we’re able to throw at the Ukrainians in terms of lethal support, unfortunately if the Russians choose to, they will outmatch that easily,” Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing on his nomination to the No. 2 post at the State Department.
“That said, what we’ve seen in recent days and in recent weeks, including the blatant violation by Russia of the very agreement it’s signed, the Minsk accords, [defensive lethal assistance] remains on the table. It’s something that we’re looking at,” he added.