The Cable

Clapper: Give Ukraine ‘Lethal Defensive Weapons’

Top intel official says Russian units key to reversing Ukraine's battlefield gains.

Ukrainian Soldiers Prepare To Defend Territory Against Russian Separatists
BERDIANSKE, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 28: Ukrainian soldiers stand on top of an armored personal carrier in a newly dug trench near the front line of defense against pro-Russian seperatists on February 28, 2015 near in the village of Berdianske, Ukraine. Berdianske is on the eastern side of Mariupol, Ukraine - many Ukrainian soldiers believe pro-Russian seperatists will try to take control of the city of Mariupol next in an effort to create a land bridge between Russia and Crimea. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The U.S. government’s senior intelligence official said that he believes the Obama administration should give Kiev “lethal defensive weapons” for its struggle against the Russian-backed separatists battling the country’s military in eastern Ukraine

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that he had argued for giving the Ukrainians the weapons to “bolster their resolve” and convince them “that we’re with them.” But he stressed that his position was not U.S. government policy – at least, not yet. “This is just me, Jimmy Clapper, speaking,” he said. “This is something that’s in deliberation right now among the foreign policy community.”

When the U.S. government decides one way or the other, “it won’t be an intel call,” he added. Senior Obama administration officials have said that they’re considering providing arms but have yet to make a final decision.

In the meantime, Clapper said, “the Russians are doing more than providing arms” to the pro-Russian rebels in eastern part of the country. He credited Russian military forces with reversing the battlefield advances made by the Ukrainian military last summer, a renewed burst of fighting that has helped unravel a succession of recent European-brokered cease-fires between the two sides.

Seán D. Naylor is the author of Relentless Strike – The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command. Twitter: @seandnaylor

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