Former national security adviser: Arm Ukraine

Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as national security adviser to former President Carter, is pressing for the U.S. to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons to deter Russia.

"The U.S should make available defensive weaponry to Ukraine," he told senators at the Senate Armed Services Committee's first full hearing this year on Wednesday. 

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Lawmakers from both parties have pressed the Obama administration to approve Ukraine's request for lethal military aid. But the White House has rejected those calls, arguing that doing so would provoke Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinThe peculiar priorities of Adam Schiff Fox News's Shep Smith blasts Trump over 'xenophobic eruption' on minority lawmakers Juan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller MORE into taking more aggressive moves against Ukraine.

But not providing that assistance to Ukraine "simply increases Russia's intentions to escalate tensions," Brzezinski told lawmakers. "In Europe, Putin is playing with fire, financing and arming a local rebellion." 

Last March, Russian forces invaded Ukraine and annexed the Crimean peninsula. Moscow has also been supplying arms and aid for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. 

The former statesman warned that Russia has been conducting "menacing military maneuvers," citing as alarming a recent Russian exercise simulating a nuclear attack on one of its neighbors. 

"Putin has evoked the threat of nuclear weapons. He has publicly commented ... 'we have nuclear weapons and we have the capability.' And he has matched that with provocative air overflights," he said. 

Brzezinski also recommended that NATO deploy forces, including U.S. troops, in the Baltic states that could serve as a "tripwire" for NATO military action against any Russian incursions there. 

He said he supported U.S. and European Union economic sanctions imposed on Russia so far, but said they were a long-term restraint and that the U.S. should do more to help Ukraine in the short term.

"We need to do something to make Putin question before he escalates," he said. "Deterrence has to have meaning, it has to have teeth in it. ... This is why I recommend what I recommend." 

"I don't think Putin plans to invade Ukraine as a whole," he added, "but this continuous pin-pricking ... is something that cannot be ignored."

"In the short run, we [need to] indicate to him by tangible steps that we will be involved in some fashion in making that military engagement more costly," said Brzezinski.