U.S. officials weigh defensive weapons, training for Ukraine

Washington (CNN)The Obama administration is holding intensive conversations with the Europeans about further sanctions on Russia, as top U.S. national security officials convene this week to decide what types of support to offer Ukraine.

All options, including defensive weapons and U.S. troops for training, are being considered as a "package" rather than on a case-by-case basis, a senior defense official told CNN. That's being done to ensure the proper analysis and consideration is given to how the sum total of the decisions could affect the U.S. relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the country he leads.
In addition to further sanctions, which would be imposed together with the Europeans if Russia violates a ceasefire signed in February, the U.S. needs to decide whether to provide Ukraine with defensive weapons such as anti-air and anti-artillery systems to combat Russian forces.
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Also at issue is whether the Pentagon proceeds with sending about 100 U.S. troops to far western Ukraine later this month to train Ukrainian forces in border and security issues. The exercise has been publicly discussed, but the Pentagon has not given final approval, as the national security team is first deciding on the package of measures.
    House Foreign Affairs Committee members pressed the administration Wednesday on providing weaponry and questioned why more wasn't being done to counter Russia's influence in eastern Ukraine.
    The committee chairman, California Republican Rep. Ed Royce, and ranking member, New York Democratic Rep. Engel, said they were sending a letter to President Obama urging him to provide arms to the Ukrainian military.

    Defensive weapons for Ukraine?

    "What we're talking about are weapons that are purely defensive but are absolutely necessary if there's going to be any credible deterrence to what the Russians are doing town by town now in the east," Royce said at the hearing.
    So far, the administration has send $118 million in non-lethal assistance to Ukraine. One congressman insisted that's far from enough.
    "Blankets and all this, they don't stop bullets," said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania). "They don't stop tanks."
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    In addition, Engel announced that he would be introducing new legislation to increase U.S. aid to Ukraine "on a variety of fronts."
    "It will dial up the pressure on Vladimir Putin for his reckless, destructive and destabilizing policies, and it will send a clear message that the United States stands with the people of Ukraine against Russian aggression," said Engel.
    Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland defended the administration's efforts to bolster Ukraine. She noted that the U.S. is providing defensive equipment such as counter-fire radar batteries.
    She also testified that the administration is holding "intensive conversations" with the Europeans on additional sanctions that are continuing this week.

    Fears of a Russian backlash

    At a hearing last week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said he personally is "inclined in the direction" of providing lethal aid, but noted such action could provoke some kind of backlash from Russia.
    "Predicting exactly what Putin will do or what his behavior will be is something of an unknown," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
    Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this week said the United States should "absolutely consider providing lethal aide" to Kiev to assist in the fight against Russian-backed separatists.
    He told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the United States could help Ukraine "compete on a level playing field."
    Secretary of State John Kerry also said that providing weapons warranted consideration, but added, "I think everybody understands that we're not going to be able to do enough under any circumstances that if Russia decides to match it and surpass it they're going to be able to do that."