EU-US Pondering the Use of Force and Arming Ukraine

Written by | Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

The United States announced on Tuesday (15 April) – a day after the EU’s decision to expand the list of Russian officials targeted by an asset freeze and travel ban – that it is considering supplying arms to Ukraine. In a separate development, Sweden, Luxembourg and Lithuania have explicitly backed Ukraine’s right to use force against pro-Russian separatists. Luxembourg’s UN envoy, Olivier Maes, made the statement at the emergency UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting in New York on Sunday (13 April) arguing that “Ukraine has the right to defend herself under article 51 of the United Nations charter.” Her Lithuanian counterpart, Raimonda Murmokaite concurred by saying that “when the existence of the state is put in danger, we support the right of Ukraine to defend itself in the face of external aggression and to tackle militant separatism and continuous provocations.” These views were shared also by Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, who wrote on Twitter: “If illegal armed groups took over police stations and local government offices in Sweden we would use all our instruments to restore order.”
The statements by European leaders came hours before an ultimatum issued by Ukraine’s caretaker government was to expire on Monday morning which called for armed pro-Russian separatists to cede control of government buildings in several cities in the eastern regions of Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Luhansk. Ukraine’s president on Monday threatened military action after pro-Russian separatists occupying government buildings in the east ignored an ultimatum to leave and another group of rebels attacked a police headquarters in the troubled region. Meanwhile, Thomas Shannon, an adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry said during a trip to Berlin on Monday that the US government is considering the option of arming Ukraine “but at this point I can’t anticipate whether or not we are going to do that.” Republican Senator John McCain has argued in favor of providing arms to the conflict-stricken country, because the occupations that began on Sunday are part of a Russian-led plan to dismember the country. The US has already supplied weapons to Russian neighbor Georgia since 2002, and has also trained its armed forces, but the close US-Georgian military ties have been repeatedly criticized by Moscow.
These dramatic developments have been unfolding as Sipri, a military spending research group, has reported on Monday (14 April) that Russia spends more on arms compared to its GDP than the US and European countries. The US remains the world’s top military spender in gross terms (€460bn), but its spending decreased by over 7 percent compared to the previous year, mainly because of the withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. Also in proportional terms, US military spending makes up only 3.8 percent of its GDP, while Russia (€63.4bn) has raised its arms budget to 4.1 percent of GDP in 2013, up from 3.5 percent in 2004. There are four European countries – France, Britain, Germany and Italy – in the top 15 of largest military spenders in the world. Ukraine, on the brink of a war with the invading Russian neighbor, has also increased its military spending by 16 percent since last year.

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