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Conversation: Arming Ukraine with Lethal Weapons has Risks

6 MINS READFeb 10, 2015 | 22:42 GMT

Paul Floyd: Hi. I'm Paul Floyd, a military analyst here at Stratfor, and I'm joined by Sim Tack, another military analyst here at Stratfor. Today we're going to discuss a lot of the noise that we've been hearing about both the U.S. and or NATO arming the Ukrainian military to do duel with conflict that's happening in their country. So Sim, what has kind of started all of this conversation about arming Ukrainian military all of a sudden?

Sim Tack: So recently we've seen several statements coming out of NATO officials, around U.S. Congress. There's also been an Atlantic Council report, all kind of feeding into the narrative of the potential to deploy more effective weapons to Ukraine to support the Ukrainian military.

Paul: And to be clear, so we've already seen some arming of Ukraine but it's been kind in the vein of nonlethal weaponry correct?

Sim: Exactly. We've seen medical equipment, some types of counter-battery radars to help protect them from artillery activity and other non-aggressive weapons basically.

Paul: Body armor, night vision goggles or some of those things. All of these things that enable kind of the individual soldier but are not necessarily considered weapons or lethal weaponry.

Sim: Yes.

Paul: So really the Atlantic Council report that you referenced had specific recommendations. What were they focusing on?

Sim: Yeah so what we've seen the report talk about was more capable counter-battery systems, UAV's for reconnaissance, as well as electronic counter measure systems to counter Russian drone activity, light armored vehicles. And then on top of that, we've also seen talk about Javelin anti-armor missiles.

Paul: So a lot of this is being billed as defensive systems. And I personally don’t like that term as a military analyst because most systems can be used in an offensive or defensive manner. Really systems just add capabilities. So lets focus on the Javelin anti-tank guided missiles. Why exactly would that be so effective for the Ukrainian military? What would that do for them?

Sim: So right now a lot of the activity inside the battle area has involved armor. So in those regards, having more capable anti-armor weaponry would definitely help the Ukrainians in both defensive positions against the Russians. But of course, having this capability to destroy Russian and separatist armor also enables you to actually act offensively against their positions.

Paul: Right. We've actually seen an offensive start today. In Mariupol, there's been some push by the Ukrainian military on some Russian positions. So overall, what's the effect that's trying be achieved here? Are we trying to make Ukraine, if this was to happen, are we trying to make the Ukrainian military a force that can push Russians and separatists out of Ukraine and solidify the country again?

Sim: Well, that in itself is probably unlikely. It takes more than some extra equipment to actually overturn the balance of power that's currently there. The main thing that NATO and the U.S. are actually signaling here is that they have the possibility to do this and that they're willing to do this if Russia is unwilling to actually step down from its current aggression.

Paul: Yeah, it's an important nuance, you can't just turn over a weapons system and all of a sudden that military has a new capability immediately. There has to be training, it also depends on how much of that weapons system is actually being handed over. A good example or corollary that we've seen recently is what the U.S.-led coalition is doing with the peshmerga in northern Iraq, where the Milan missile systems, anti-armor systems, that they've given to the peshmerga have been exceptionally useful in fighting the Islamic State and a lot of the captured armor. Now granted, militants with captured armor use it in a kind of hodgepodge format doesn’t directly translate to fighting the Russian military or the separatists-backed military as well. But you could see how there could be an affect here. But I guess what we're really talking about is the message, is not about building the Ukrainian military that can push out the Russian separatists and the Russians themselves, but maybe make any further incursions really really painful and impose a cost. So the message here is Russia if you continue to be very aggressive, we're going to put something in place that is going to make that very painful for you to keep doing your actions or being more aggressive.

Sim: Right. And it's very important to look at this not only in the isolated context of the actual military activity on the ground. We have a series of negotiations going on. On Wednesday the actual Minsk agreement talks are going to continue. There's been a lot of back and forth with Merkel, Hollande, Putin and Obama. Talking to each other about how to actually deal with this situation. And any type of threats or lines being drawn in the sand in relation to the military situation, directly play into the diplomatic faceoff.

Paul: Yeah. And to your point, where we saw what I call noise earlier last week and this week, a lot of that's quieted down. In fact a lot people have backed up from the original position and said well, Poland is a great example. Poland very much said they'd be willing to be a part of this weapons transfer, and this week we saw them, we have no intention of giving lethal weapons. So it seems that that political negotiation that you're talking about is being given a chance. And so while that message has been sent, the actual action is being held on to or held back. But the bigger I guess issue with this though is, how does Russia perceive that or how does Russia receive that message? Because to a point, they see this potential, a serious potential threat to their military capabilities. What do they do if they're really start to fear that NATO and or the U.S. is going to make the Ukrainian military very capable all of a sudden.

Sim: Obviously, that wouldn’t be an issue for the operations that are ongoing. But even beyond that, one of the main reasons that Russia is involved in this conflict is because they do not want to see a Ukraine that is completely aligned with the West, with NATO. If this actual conflict leads to Ukraine being more integrated into NATO through using the same weapon systems by a more intense training that creates a completely opposite consequence of what Russia was going for.

Paul: Deterrence is a very fine line. What we see or what the U.S. sees as let's build a deterrent capability in a force is a threat to Russia, and Russia may try to preempt that actually kind of sparking the very military action we're all trying to deter. Well very complex subject, thank you very much Sim. And for more information, please join us at startfor.com.

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