U.S. plans to send non-lethal aid package to bolster Ukrainian military

BY Julie Pace, Associated Press  April 16, 2014 at 1:57 PM EST

The United States is working on a package of non-lethal aid for Ukraine that could include medical supplies and clothing, but would stop short of providing body armor and other military-style equipment, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The incremental assistance would be aimed both at bolstering the Ukrainian military as it seeks to halt the advances of pro-Russian forces in the east, as well as showing symbolic U.S. support for Ukraine’s efforts. But the aid is unlikely to satisfy the Obama administration’s critics, who say what the Ukrainians really need are weapons to defend themselves.

“We ought to at least, for God’s sake, give them some light weapons with which to defend themselves,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said over the weekend.

The administration has said it is considering aid requests from Ukraine, but is not actively considering sending weapons, ammunition or other lethal assistance.

“We are obviously evaluating requests and looking at ways that we can support the Ukrainian government,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “but our focus is on continuing to put pressure on Russia so that it understands that the international community is united when it comes to support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Speaking on this matter Tuesday, Carney sidestepped questions about whether the U.S. would supply military-style equipment like body armor that is not technically defined as lethal aid. However, U.S. officials said that type of assistance is not expected to be part of the new aid package under consideration.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly before the aid package is finalized.

On Tuesday, the Ukrainian military launched its first action against pro-Russian forces in the east, beginning what Ukraine’s president called an “anti-terrorist operation” to try to restore authority over the restive region.

Ukraine’s central government has so far been unable to rein in the insurgents, who it says are being stirred up by paid operatives from Russia. The forces have seized numerous government facilities in at least nine eastern cities to press their demands for broader autonomy and closer ties with Russia. Complicating the political landscape, many local security forces have switched to their side.

U.S. assistance to Ukraine’s military has so far been limited to about 300,000 ready to eat meals, which were shipped in late March. The U.S. has also authorized a $1 billion loan guarantee for Ukraine’s fledgling government.