McCain, Graham call for US to arm Ukrainians

Sens. John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Defense: General warns State Department cuts would hurt military | Bergdahl lawyers appeal Trump motion | Senators demand action after nude photo scandal Senate lawmakers eye hearing next week for Air Force secretary: report House Intel chairman under fire from all sides MORE (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamUnder pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support A real national security budget would fully fund State Department Gorsuch rewrites playbook for confirmation hearings MORE (R-S.C.) on Thursday urged President Obama to reverse his previous position and provide arms to Ukrainian forces, who are trying to ward off a renewed invasion threat by Russian forces. 

“The Obama Administration’s policy in Ukraine effectively amounts to an arms embargo on victims of aggression," McCain and Graham said in a statement Tuesday. 

"The United States and the European Union must provide Ukraine with the arms and related military and intelligence support that its leaders have consistently sought and desperately need," they said. 

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The call comes amid signs of a pending war between Ukrainian forces and armed pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine who are supported by Moscow. 

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Tuesday of a "serious military buildup" by Russian forces inside Ukraine, along its eastern border with Russia.

The White House has provided non-lethal aid to Ukrainian forces, but has been unwilling to provide Ukrainian forces with lethal weapons, citing concerns that such a move could provide Moscow with a pretext to further invade Ukraine. In March, Russian forces invaded and annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. 

Since then, Russia has supported armed separatists in eastern Ukraine with weapons and humanitarian supplies, and has also massed tens of thousands of Russian forces along the eastern Ukrainian border. 

“No one should see Ukraine’s cause as hopeless," McCain and Graham wrote. "Providing Ukrainians with the ability to defend themselves would impose a far greater cost on Putin than he has paid thus far.”

The U.S. and European nations have responded with sanctions, as well as beefed up military exercises in Eastern Europe and the Baltics. NATO announced it was forming a rapid response force that could respond to any Russian threats against NATO countries. Ukraine, however, is not a NATO ally. 

Several Republicans have introduced bills that would sanction Russia and arm the Ukrainian forces. With Republicans in control of the Senate, those bills have a greater chance of being passed.

McCain and Graham said Putin's renewed aggression "demands more than additional empty rhetoric and threats of lowest-common-denominator sanctions." 

"That has been the extent of the world’s response to Putin’s slow-motion dismemberment of Ukraine, and it has consistently failed to deter new acts of aggression," they added.