In Digest, Ukraine

Ukraine to buy ‘defensive’ weapons in U.A.E., President says

By Robert Wall in Abu Dhabi and James Marson in Moscow, Wall St. Journal, Feb. 24, 2015

Ukraine said it would buy what it called defensive weapons from the United Arab Emirates, bypassing the West’s reluctance to provide arms to help Kiev’s forces against Russia-backed rebels. President Petro Poroshenko, speaking Tuesday at the International Defense Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi, didn’t specify what type of equipment Ukraine would buy or in what quantities, but said they would help Ukraine protect its territory from the separatists.

Ukraine military, photo by Evgeniy Maloletka , AP

Ukraine military, photo by Evgeniy Maloletka , AP

The U.A.E. Defense Ministry couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. It didn’t include any Ukraine-related arms deals in its daily contract update for the exposition.

Ukraine has for months requested lethal weapons from its backers in the West, but run into stiff resistance especially from Germany, France and Britain, which fear an escalation in the nearly yearlong conflict.

The Obama administration recently began reconsidering supplying Javelin antitank missiles, small arms and ammunition to Ukraine, but delayed a decision during the latest European peace efforts, which brought a cease-fire agreement on Feb. 12. Like a similar agreement in September, the truce has failed to fully take hold, as militants overran the strategic, Ukrainian-held town of Debaltseve last week.

In Washington on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. is considering imposing additional sanctions on Russia in the next few days, and that the next round would add Russian officials and entities currently sanctioned by Canada and the European Union. He indicated at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that this would include Alexander Bortnikov, head of Russia’s Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB. Mr. Bortnikov, who is already subject to EU and Canadian sanctions, attended last week’s White House summit on extremism, leading the Russian delegation. The U.S. helped arrange for Mr. Bortnikov’s visa and travel.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at IDEX arms fair in Abu Dubai on Feb 24, 2015, photo by AP

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at IDEX arms fair in Abu Dubai on Feb 24, 2015, photo by AP

Mr. Kerry reiterated that U.S. lethal aid to Ukraine is “under active consideration.” However, he also said Mr. Poroshenko and others have acknowledged that Ukraine can’t defeat Russia militarily.  “Nobody, not even Poroshenko … believes that they can get enough materiel that they can win,” Mr. Kerry said. “He believes they might be able to raise the cost and do more damage.”

Mr. Kerry said officials are considering whether it is worth “raising the cost,” a view lawmakers from both parties have pressed.

“I hate to be cynical, but when it comes to Russia, they deserve it,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) at a Senate Appropriations Committee subpanel hearing earlier Tuesday. “I think we need to move and be ready to move quickly.”

Col. Andriy Lysenko, a Ukrainian security spokesman, said militants continued to shell Ukrainian positions on Tuesday, with one serviceman killed and seven injured in the last 24 hours.  He said that although the frequency of shelling had decreased, a full cease-fire needed to hold for two days before Kiev would pull its heavy weapons from the front lines—the next stage of the peace agreement.

Eduard Basurin, a rebel army commander, said his fighters had withdrawn heavy weapons from some towns on the front lines, but Col. Lysenko said the militants were regrouping elsewhere.

Russian President Vladimir Putin , who helped broker the Feb. 12 truce, said in a television interview in Moscow that “the situation will gradually normalize” if the full cease-fire deal is implemented. That includes a decentralization of power that would hand rebel-held areas greater powers, including the right to create their own police force and appoint prosecutors and judges.

Foreign ministers from Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France reaffirmed their commitment to the accord hashed out by their leaders, calling for “strict implementation” of all provisions. Meeting in Paris, the envoys discussed the violence around Debaltseve and Mariupol—a Ukrainian port that has also been targeted by separatists—demanding that international monitors receive full access to the disputed areas. “We call on all parties to cooperate,” the ministers said afterward, without saying which side was blocking the monitors.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is looking to bolster its armed forces, which mostly use aging equipment from the Soviet era, after losing its Crimea region to Russia in March 2014, and then large swaths of its Donetsk and Luhansk regions to pro-Moscow separatists. But the fighting has caused havoc in the local weapons industry, which has suffered the loss of some facilities as it tries to maintain production of items such as armored combat vehicles.

The U.S. and some allies have provided Ukraine with nonlethal military aid, such as protective vests, night-vision goggles and counter-mortar radar systems. U.K. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon on Tuesday announced additional nonlethal support “in light of continued Russian-backed aggression,” including medical, logistics, infantry and intelligence capacity-building. He said up to 75 British troops would conduct the training from mid-March in Ukraine, but “well away” from the conflict area.

Prime Minister David Cameron told a parliamentary committee that Britain was “not at the stage of supplying lethal equipment” to Ukraine.

After a meeting with senior U.A.E. officials, Mr. Poroshenko said military technical-cooperation agreements were signed to bolster Ukraine’s arms industry, which he said also managed to secure several export orders. He called the deals “extremely important so we have the money to modernize our armed forces.”

Ukraine has been forced to scrap some foreign orders as it diverts items intended for export to fighting at home, said Lukyan Selsky, spokesman for UkrOboronProm, which represents most of Ukraine’s defense industry. “We had to put all the vehicles in the fight in eastern Ukraine,” he said.

Some production facilities in Crimea and eastern Ukraine also are no longer under government control, he said. Ukrainian officials believe some of the equipment has been relocated to Russia, though they lack proof.

Some personnel who worked in eastern Ukraine have been relocated to other plants. The ability to manufacture explosive powder, for instance, is being rebuilt after a key production site fell into rebel hands, Mr. Selsky said.

Ukraine also is trying to balance military needs with its limited financial resources. The country, for instance, can’t afford its own Oplot main battle tank, Mr. Selsky said. It has decided to continue their export and instead take older tanks that were in storage and upgrade them.

See elsehwere on New Cold
‘Ukraine-UAE arms deal strengthens Kiev’s hand in future negotiations’,, February 25, 2015


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