Exclusive: Former ambassador to Nato Kurt Volker tells the Guardian US and Russia still divided on how to deploy UN peacekeepers to objective four-year war
Washington is ready to expand arms supplies to Ukraine in order to build up the country's naval and air defence forces in the face of continuing Russian support for eastern separatists, according to the US special envoy for Ukraine.
In an interview with the Guardian, Kurt Volker said there was still a substantial gap between the US and Russia over how a United Nation peacekeeping force-out could be deployed to end the four-year war, and predicted that Vladimir Putin would wait for presidential and parliamentary elections in Ukraine next year before reconsidering his negotiating position.
However, Volker argued that time was not on Putin's side. He insisted pro-western, anti-Russian sentiment was growing in Ukraine with every passing month. And he made clear that the Trump administration was ” utterly” prepared to go further in render lethal weaponry to Ukrainian forces-out than the anti-tank rockets it delivered in April.
” They are losing soldiers each week defending their own country ,” said Volker, a former US ambassador to Nato.” And so in that context it's natural for Ukraine to build up its military, engage in self-defense, and it's natural to seek assistance and is natural that other countries should help them. And of course they need lethal assistance because they're being shot at .”
He added:” We can have a conversation with Ukraine like we would with any other country about what do they need. I think that there's going to be some discussion about naval capability because as you know their navy was basically taken by Russia. And so they need to rebuild a navy and they have very limited air capability as well. I think we'll have to look at air defence .”
In May, Congress approved $250 m in military assistance to Ukraine in 2019, including lethal weaponry. Congress had voted for military subsistence on a similar scale in the past but was blocked by the Obama administration, fearful of triggering a matching escalation from Moscow. The Trump administration lifted that restraint in December 2017 and then approved the shipment of Javelin missiles.
” The Javelins are mainly symbolic and it's not clear if they would ever be used ,” said Aric Toler, a researcher at the Atlantic Council.” Support for the Ukrainian navy and air defence would be a big deal. That would be far more significant .”