WASHINGTON, June 11 - U.S. lawmakers prepared legislation that would authorize supplying Kyiv with surface-to-air missiles as part of a broader effort in U.S. Congress to increase military support for Ukraine, RFE/RL reported Tuesday.
The move comes in an amendment being attached to legislation providing funding for the Defense Department; the amendment removes existing language prohibiting the sale of such missiles, known as man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADS.
Sponsored by the two top lawmakers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee -- Democrat Eliot Engel and Republican Michael McCaul -- the measure, which is expected to pass easily, does not mean that the weapons will be supplied right away.
Any final decision would have to go through multiple approval processes at various U.S. agencies, including the U.S. Defense Department.
Targets for Ukrainian surface-to-air missiles are limited for now: Russia-backed separatists don’t have fighter jets, and Russia sending its own aircraft over Ukraine would undermine its assertions that it is not involved in the conflict.
The move sends a clear message to the Kremlin of where Congress stands regarding the war in Ukraine. And, according to Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, it’s a logical next step after the U.S. decision to supply Javelins to the Ukrainian armed forces.
“I don’t see this as generating more problems than the arrival of the Javelins did,” Pifer, now a research fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, told RFE/RL. “We’re not talking about providing the Ukrainians with F-35 fighters or M-1 tanks.”
The Defense Department did not immediately respond to a query seeking comment on the possibility of supplying the missiles.
While Moscow reacted angrily when Washington agreed to supply the Javelins to Ukraine, there have been few remarks by Russian officials on the subject since the 210 missiles and 37 launchers arrived in April 2018.
Ukraine has showcased the Javelins in publicized drills but its armed forces have not used them in combat against Russia-backed forces in eastern battlefields.
The special U.S. envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, has said that the Javelins are being stored in a secure facility far from the front line.
Ukrainian and American sources with knowledge of the storage locations have told RFE/RL that the missiles and launchers have been separated into smaller groups and are held in strategic locations around the country, possibly in underground bunkers, where they can be moved quickly to areas that border Russia or the eastern front line.
In March, the top U.S. military commander for Europe told the Senate Armed Services Committee that even if the Javelins haven’t been deployed, their presence has been registered by Russia-backed forces.
“They take that into consideration in the deployment of their forces and where they put them,” General Curtis Scaparrotti told the committee.
Since 2014, Ukraine has received more than $3 billion in total support, including security and non-security assistance, from the United States. (rfe/ez)