While on a special fact-finding mission to Eastern Europe, the US’ Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker told the Ukrainian government that it would have to come to the realisation that its much-improved armed forces would be unable to recapture areas that it lost to Russian and Moscow-backed separatists over four years ago.
“There’s no way the Ukrainians can take the territory back, which has already been taken by the Russians. Russia is just too powerful, but the cost to Russia for a further advancement has already increased and will continue to increase. And if that’s the case, then you have to ask yourself if you’re sitting in Moscow, ‘What are we getting out of this? We are getting Russian casualties, soldiers being killed fighting in Ukraine, for what?’” Volker said in an interview with the Ukrainian Service of the BBC on May 17.
The message was a cold shower the government of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko as he struggles to fend-off growing accusations from his own population and from increasingly impatient Western governments that he and his administration are doing little to combat corruption and the stagnant economic conditions that have continued to plague Ukraine since a civil uprising ousted the previous pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution.
Kyiv had hoped the recent delivery of Javelin anti-tank missiles from the US would significantly tip the balance on the battlefield in their favour as the Javelin is the world’s most powerful portable anti-armour weapon and capable of easily destroying the T-72, T-80, and T-90 main battle tanks that Moscow has deployed to the areas it occupies in the eastern Donbass Region and Crimea.
But the US is keeping the Javelins under their watch, locked down in a secure weapons depot in west Ukraine, hundreds of kilometres from the frontline. Washington has made it clear to the Poroshenko government that the systems are strictly for defensive purposes and will no longer be under lock-and-key if Russia’s armed forces were to push beyond the current contact lines, which have remained static since mid-2015.
Since they begrudgingly agreed to provide Ukraine with sophisticated anti-tank systems – something Kyiv has pleaded for from the United States and NATO ever since Russia first invaded the country in April 2014 – the administration of US President Donald J Trump has insisted that all weapons deliveries to the Ukrainian military are strictly intended to defend against any future attempts by Russia to seize additional Ukrainian territory.
“If they (the Ukrainians) are not able to hold the line, that’s just an invitation to further advancements. What this does is that it tells the Russians very clearly that ‘You are not going to get any more without it being very costly to you’.
Trump’s administration has struggled to formulate a coherent policy towards Ukraine, particularly after the US Congress passed a bill that codified sanctions that are currently imposed against Moscow for its invasion of Crimea and the Donbass. The White House has gone along with elements of the policies of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, but has had to balance between Trump’s inclination to improve relations with Russia and his personal affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin with realities on the ground when it comes to countering Moscow’s threat to the security structure for the whole of Europe and US longstanding commitments to NATO and its allies in the region.