Trump Administration Weighs Sending More Lethal Aid to Ukraine to Combat Russia and Level the Playing Field

The United States is considering whether to provide more lethal weaponry to Ukraine so that the country can protect itself from Russian aggression, according to officials.

During an armed services committee hearing this week, U.S. Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces in Europe, noted that the U.S. is considering the possibility of helping Ukraine's military bolster its sniper capabilities, but he said that the country's navy should also be studied.

"The conflict in eastern Ukraine remains hot, with numerous ceasefire violations reported weekly," Scaparrotti added to Congress.

The USS Donald Cook (DDG-75) Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer is seen at the Odessa Sea Port. The vessel has arrived in the city of Odessa to perform operations in safety, as well as for increasing combat readiness and naval capacity, together with NATO allies in the area. Arkhip Vereshchagin/TASS/Getty Images

The comments come several months after Russia prevented three Ukraine navy ships from entering the Sea of Azov via the Kerch Strait, a body of water that international law dictates the two countries should share. Russia seized all three ships and detained the Ukrainian sailors, who remain in Russian custody months later. Some experts argue that the U.S. and its NATO allies should work to bolster Ukraine's Navy so that it does not continue to be at a strategic disadvantage.

"I think the Kerch Strait incident showcased not only the continued threat to Ukraine but also the deficiencies of the Ukrainian coast guard and Navy in terms of their capabilities," Mark Simakovsky, an expert on Russia and NATO at the D.C.-based Atlantic Council, told Newsweek. "So this is an ongoing issue...The U.S. can and should continue to provide defense assistance, and actually accelerate defense assistance, to Ukraine and broaden it beyond the focus on anti-armor and anti-air capabilities and counter battery radar."

"It's obviously a sensitive time with the elections coming up, so the timing of that I think should be postponed until after the election, but I do think there is a requisite need and that Russia has continued to showcase aggression in Ukraine," Simakovsky continued. "The U.S. has sustained its support for Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty, and most of all, the Ukrainian navy is an abysmal state, so I think the U.S. has a unique ability to provide them with more assistance."

Ukraine's elections will be held in late March, and the country's security services have accused Russia of attempting to meddle in the elections using bribes.

A conflict has been raging between the two countries since 2014, ever since Russia began backing pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of Ukraine known as the Donbas. Some estimate that over 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict, and many more displaced, as Ukraine attempts to wrest control of the region from the separatists.

In late February, to mark the five-year anniversary of Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, the State Department reaffirmed its commitment to recognizing Ukrainian control over Crimea.

"The United States remains gravely concerned by the worsening repression by Russia's occupation regime in Crimea. During the past five years, Russian occupation authorities have engaged in an array of abuses in a campaign to eliminate all opposition to its control over Crimea," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. "As part of this campaign, Russia has arbitrarily detained and wrongfully convicted individuals for peaceful opposition to the occupation, and in some cases has forcibly transferred these individuals from occupied Crimea to Russia."

But the U.S. only began selling lethal weapons to Ukraine under the Trump administration. The Obama administration resisted sending lethal aid to Ukraine in order to prevent the conflict from escalating. In the first years of the conflict, many members of Ukraine's military reported that they were under-equipped.

Last year, the U.S. sold Ukraine the Javelin anti-tank missile system, marking the first time Washington provided Kiev with lethal aid. Experts noted that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine did not intensify following the sale as some feared it would.