Dems push Obama to arm Ukrainians

Democrats are raising pressure on President Obama to arm Ukraine’s military, after thousands of Russian forces reportedly entered the country.

The administration has been wary of providing lethal aid, despite requests from the government in Kiev, arguing that there is no “military solution” to the crisis.

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Republicans have long urged Obama to take a tougher line against Russia, but now more members of the president’s own party are making the case.

“We have sent some nonlethal aid to the Ukraine. I think it is appropriate to up that level of aid, to make them a more capable fighting force to resist this incursion and to make it as painful as possible for Putin to make any progress in the Ukraine,” Rep. Adam SmithAdam SmithSenior Dems want nuclear warhead audit Dems warns Trump nuclear push would suck money from budget Treasury chief's global debut will reveal much about his trade stance MORE (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the House Armed Services panel and a normally staunch administration supporter, said on Sunday.

“I do think we should be more forceful in supporting the Ukrainian government,” he added, becoming the latest Democrat to press for lethal aid.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl LevinCarl LevinDevin Nunes has jeopardized the oversight role of Congress Ted Cruz wants to destroy the Senate as we know it A package proposal for repatriation MORE (D-Mich.) has also voiced support for providing ammunition and surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine.

“We should allow them to have types of lethal equipment, which are not the most provocative, but which are defensive,” Levin said after a July 30 classified briefing from officials. 

The growing calls for military aid to Ukraine come as Obama arrives in Europe, where he will visit Estonia and then attend a summit of NATO allies. The administration, though, has pushed back against arming Ukraine.

“The President has made clear we do not see a military solution to this crisis,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden in an email statement to The Hill on Tuesday.

“We already have committed some $60 million, to include items like night vision goggles, body armor, communications equipment, meals ready-to-eat, and medical supplies,” she said.

“This assistance has helped the Ukrainians sustain operations by their security forces and border guards to protect their country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” 

Ukraine has requested lethal and nonlethal aid from the U.S. since its forces began to battle pro-Russian separatists in April, after Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula. Lawmakers said Kiev’s wish list includes Humvees and F-16 fighter jets. 

The U.S. and allies have ramped up military training missions in Eastern Europe. NATO is also considering the creation of a rapid-reaction force that could be deployed to hotspots in Europe quickly.

Despite those moves, the U.S. and Europe have focused their efforts on sanctions targeting the Russian economy instead of lethal aid and threatened additional restrictions.

One senior Democrat, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinOvernight Regulation: Trump repeals 'blacklisting' rule Dems delay Senate panel vote on Supreme Court nominee Dems get it wrong: 'Originalism' is mainstream, even for liberal judges MORE (D-Calif.), has questioned whether further sanctions would do any good. 

“I’m not sure they will work. I’m not sure that shakes the people that much,” Feinstein said Sunday on NBC. “People say, ‘Well, just wait ’til the sanctions bite and the economy slips.’ I don’t think so.”

The pressure from lawmakers will only mount when they return from recess. The House Armed Services Committee has scheduled a closed-door briefing on both Iraq and Ukraine on Sept. 9. 

“There is a general sentiment among U.S. policymakers that it’s worth helping Ukrainian forces deal with the serious threat,” said Nora Bensahel, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. However, she said she did not expect any U.S. or NATO announcement on lethal aid to come out of this week’s summit. 

“It is very difficult to balance with a desire not to escalate the conflict ... that’s the dilemma,” said Bensahel.

But Sen. Robert MenendezRobert MenendezCorruption trial could roil NJ Senate race Steve Mnuchin, foreclosure king, now runs your US Treasury Senate Dems move to nix Trump's deportation order MORE (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who traveled to Ukraine over the weekend, called Russia’s most recent incursion a “watershed moment.” 

The Ukraine crisis is a “test,” he said, warning that U.S. adversaries were closely watching. 

“Thousands of Russian troops are here ... and they are directly engaged in an invasion,” he said Sunday on CNN. “This is no longer the question of rebel separatists, this is an invasion.”