Brown, Portman urge Obama to arm Ukrainian army

The letter, drafted by Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman and Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, calls on Obama to send anti-tank weapons, armored Humvees and radar to fight the rebels in Eastern Ukraine who are supplied by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also signed the letter, according to an aide.

“Unfortunately, sanctions alone are unlikely to deter Putin,” an early draft of the letter read. “As such, Ukraine needs an immediate infusion of effective defensive military equipment and financial aid to thwart Putin’s naked aggression.”

The letter circulated on Capitol Hill Tuesday and was signed by at least 15 senators before it was sent to the White House. It follows reports that Obama was considering sending advanced defensive military equipment to Ukraine. The administration and Western European allies have been reluctant to ship military equipment into Ukraine, preferring to counter Putin with economic sanctions.

Portman told the Columbus Dispatch editorial board Monday that it is “unconscionable” for the U.S. not to assist Ukraine with defensive military aid.

“These insurgents have really sophisticated equipment because the Russians are just giving it to them,” Portman said. “If we don’t push back, we’re going to see more of the same.”

Pressure on Obama to assist Ukraine intensified following a report released Monday by eight former defense and foreign policy officials, including Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary of defense in the Obama administration, and Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution and who served as deputy secretary of state under former President Bill Clinton.

“Russia’s actions in and against Ukraine pose the gravest threat to European security in more than 30 years,” they wrote. “The West has the capacity to stop Russia. The question is whether it has the will.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest was non-committal Tuesday when asked by reporters if Obama planned to provide advanced military aid to Ukraine. “It is the view of the United States that this situation will be resolved diplomatically,” he said, adding: “The idea that somehow we … can offer enough assistance to the Ukrainians to put their military on par with the large Russian military is unrealistic.”

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said that Putin “has no intention of de-escalating the burgeoning crisis he has created. The administration needs to act now.”

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