With the backing of Congress and top national security officials, the Trump administration has authorized the U.S. commercial sale of lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine for the first time, according to multiple reports.
The State Department approved a commercial license that would permit items such as Model M107A1 Sniper Systems, ammunition, and associated parts and accessories to be exported to Ukraine, administration officials told the Washington Post. The sale was at $41.5 million, and the weapons will assist the Ukrainian military address areas of weakness as they battle a Russian-backed separatist movement in two provinces.
While that report indicated the State Department had not approved the export of heavier weapons including the Javelin antitank missiles that Ukraine had requested, a follow-up from the Associated Press on Saturday said the Trump administration has green-lit the sale of Javelin missiles too – a move that Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain lauded as marking "another significant step in the right direction" in helping Ukraine.
This decision diverts from the Obama administration's policy to not sell arms to Ukraine. Although Congress had approved the sales in the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, the Obama administration decided not to move forward with it, which was viewed as a choice to not provide the Ukraine military with lethal weapons.
The State Department is required by law to inform Congress of any planned sales of weapons to foreign entities, and it is unclear whether it has done so yet.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., lauded the Trump administration for authorizing the sale.
“I’m pleased the administration approved the sale of defensive lethal arms to Ukraine,” Corker told the Washington Post. “This decision was supported by Congress in legislation that became law three years ago and reflects our country’s longstanding commitment to Ukraine in the face of ongoing Russian aggression.”
After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, pro-Russian militants have incited violence in eastern Ukraine.
Although the decision may make Trump’s work with Russian President Vladimir Putin more difficult, Trump indicated last month during his trip to Asia that he was optimistic about gaining Russia’s help to resolve international issues, including in Ukraine.
"When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing," he tweeted. "There always playing politics - bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!"
- Daniel Chaitin contributed to this report.