WASHINGTON — House Speaker John Boehner and a group of top Democrats and Republicans stepped up the pressure on President Barack Obama to provide lethal, defensive weapons to Ukraine in its fight against Russian-backed separatists.
In a letter to the president on Thursday, the 11 lawmakers wrote that Russia’s actions are more than an attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty, calling it a “grotesque violation of international law, a challenge to the West and an assault on the international order established at such great cost in the wake of World War II.”
The group said the so-called Minsk agreements, which led to last month’s cease-fire, have only consolidated Russian and separatists’ gains, and “we urge you to quickly approve additional efforts to support Ukraine’s efforts to defend its sovereign territory, including through the transfer of lethal defense weapons systems to the Ukrainian military.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin denies arming rebels in the war in eastern Ukraine, which has killed more than 6,000 people and forced over a million to flee their homes. The fighting began in April, a month after Russia annexed the mostly Russian-speaking Crimean Peninsula.
In a phone call Thursday with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Vice President Joe Biden said he was concerned that the separatists are continuing to attack Ukrainian forces despite the fragile cease-fire. The White House said both leaders were concerned that the separatists won’t allow international monitors into territory they control even though that’s called for by the Minsk agreements.
Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told Congress on Wednesday that the U.S. is watching whether the Minsk agreements are implemented. She reminded lawmakers that Obama and European leaders have agreed to deepening sanctions against Russia if the cease-fire agreement is further violated.
Nuland said Obama has received recommendations and advice from Cabinet agencies, but that he has not yet decided on the issue of sending arms to Kiev. Nuland declined to say whether the State Department has advised the White House to send arms to Ukraine.
Many European governments oppose any U.S. move to provide military support for Ukraine’s government, fearing that might spark a wider proxy war.
The lawmakers expressed exasperation with the European opposition, urging Obama to “lead Europe in challenging this assault on international order, lest our foreign policy be held hostage by the lowest common denominator of European consensus.”
Joining Boehner, R-Ohio, in signing the letter were Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and the senior Republicans and Democrats on the Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Armed Services committees.