Wess Mitchell, who was the top State Department official in the Trump administration to oversee European and Eurasian affairs, noted that Javelins and other lethal weapons are not designed for first-time use, but to deter Moscow. to encroach on Ukrainian territory.
But while Washington urges Kiev to use the Javelins only for defensive purposes and demands that the weapons be stored in a secure facility away from the conflict, there are no geographic restrictions on the actual deployment of the missiles, officials said. Americans, which means Ukrainian forces can transport, distribute, and use them at any time.
“Javelins are defensive weapons and the United States expects Ukraine to deploy them responsibly and strategically when needed for defensive purposes,” Pentagon spokesman Mike Howard said.
If the Javelins were to be moved, that doesn’t necessarily mean they would be used – according to Kiev estimates, the threshold for actually firing the weapons has yet to be met, according to two Ukrainians familiar with the talks. The red line, they said, would be if Russian tanks crossed Ukrainian territory.
The current Russian move in Eastern Europe is exactly the kind of scenario the javelin sale was designed to counter, said two former senior US defense officials familiar with the deal.
“I’m sure there’s a discussion going on,” the person said. “It’s obvious.”
An official close to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said any discussion of moving the Javelins had not reached the presidential level and no decision had been taken on their deployment. Zelensky is eager to defuse tensions, so he wouldn’t naturally be inclined to move arms east, another person close to the Ukrainian president said.
U.S. officials said they were not aware of any decision to deploy the Javelins.
Senior Ukrainian officials are not yet convinced that the troop build-up means Russia is planning an invasion – the fact that the troop movements have been so public and dragged out for more than two weeks suggests in Kiev that Moscow could well be a saber. -rattling to try and create leverage with the new Biden administration.
But Ukrainian officials still fear the conflict could escalate dramatically and without warning. At least seven Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since the end of last month amid an outbreak of violence in the Donbass region, where Ukrainian government forces have been fighting Russian-backed separatists since 2014.
President Joe Biden and Zelensky spoke for the first time this month amid escalating tensions. A reading of the White House conversation said that Biden “reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of continued Russian aggression in the country. [Donbass] and Crimea. “
The United States has provided Ukraine with $ 2 billion in security assistance since 2014, including two slices of Javelin missiles as well as other military equipment. Biden, who unsuccessfully pushed for lethal aid to Kiev under the Obama administration, also recently approved additional lethal aid of $ 125 million to help the country defend its borders, including two armed patrol boats and a radar. counter-artillery.
Yet the Javelins are an incomplete solution to Russian aggression. Jim Townsend, a Pentagon official during the Obama administration, said that while the missile deployment per se would not be an escalation, they would be of limited use if the Russians did not plan to mount a conventional attack with vehicles. armored.
“If the Russians are up to something, and ‘something’ doesn’t involve armor, then the Javelins won’t matter,” said Townsend, who then referred to the Russian paramilitary forces that invaded Crimea in 2014. “For example, Javelins are not useful if the Russians use ‘little green men’ to infiltrate Ukrainian lines. “