Lawmakers push White House to supply arms to Ukraine

A bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers on Tuesday urged President Obama to give weapons to Ukraine’s military in the face of ongoing Russian military aggression, arguing a “change in response is needed.”

“Working with our NATO allies, the United States must implement a comprehensive strategy to support Ukraine, deter Russian aggression, and help maintain stability in the region,” the 15-member group — led by Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinBiden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report GOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch MORE (D-Ill.) and Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanThe 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Trump slams Romney, Senate GOP over infrastructure deal MORE (R-Ohio) — said in a letter to Obama.

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“Unfortunately, sanctions alone are unlikely to deter [Russian president Vladimir] Putin. As such, Ukraine needs an immediate infusion of effective defensive military equipment and financial aid to thwart Putin’s naked aggression,” the lawmakers said.

Such aid would include anti-tank weapons, counter-battery radars, armored Humvees, and increased training for Ukraine’s military, they added.

The missive comes the day after Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said the White House would continue to pursue economic sanctions against Moscow, rather than provide Kiev’s forces with weapons.

“We still think that the best way to influence Russia's calculus is through those economic sanctions that are biting deep into the Russian economy,” he told CNN. “We are not going to bring the Ukrainian military into parity with Russia's military, certainly not in the near future.”

The administration is “constantly looking at” whether to offer Ukraine additional military equipment, he added.

European leaders are expected to extend and expand sanctions against Moscow later this month but that doesn’t seem to be enough for lawmakers.

Despite sanctions and “mounting international isolation,” Putin “appears willing to gamble his country’s economy and world standing to further his blatant military invasion of another nation,” they wrote.

“Such a dangerous international bully will only stand down when faced with credible resistance,” according to lawmakers.

The group pointed to recent gains made by pro-Russian separatists and the collapse of peace talks in Minsk as additional reasons for the president to change his policy.

“As Putin’s pattern of aggression and provocation has only increased since then, a change in our response is also needed,” they said. “We believe it is time to increase military assistance to Ukraine and urge the U.S. and NATO to move quickly.”