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24 June 2017
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OpinionU.S. military assistance to Ukraine "opening up portals"

The decision of the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress to allocate $150 million in military assistance to Ukraine so far does not provide for sending any lethal weapons (although we hope it one day will). For Ukraine, it is important that by adopting this decision, the U.S. authorities have demonstrated they were ready to pursue consistent policies of their predecessors. Thus, the Kremlin’s hopes that the new U.S. administration will change its path and go for tradeoffs with Russia have been destroyed - this message by the Congress indicates that this will certainly not happen, at least in the near future.

Despite earlier reports claiming the U.S. was to provide as much as $350 million for Ukraine, now it is planned to allocate just $150 million. Why has the sum been reduced? Perhaps it will be only a certain portion of assistance... Anyway, generally, the most important aspect is the very fact such step was taken. It is substantially more significant than the volume of this assistance.

Of course, Ukraine would love to see same levels of support Israel has been enjoying, with up to a million U.S. dollars being allocated annually. But maybe it is a matter to be decided in the future. After all, the U.S. still has no clear understanding of whether Ukraine will be an asset or liability for the Western world.

The decision of the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress to allocate $150 million in military assistance to Ukraine so far does not provide for sending any lethal weapons

It’s the Ukrainians who’ve long known that Ukraine today actually protects prosperity and peace in the whole of Europe, but explaining this fact to the American side is something the Ukrainian authorities must do continuously.

Incidentally, the current escalation of fighting in eastern Ukraine and the attacks by the Russian military grouping created in Donbas indicates that Russia will continue to try to show to the U.S. that it can influence the situation. It will continue attacks on Ukrainian forces to compel the United States to enter into a dialogue. That is, the situation is rather difficult; but the fact that in such circumstances, the U.S. still decided to support Ukraine is a very important signal for Russia.

For Ukraine, this decision will "open up a portal": in fact, following this step by the U.S., other countries may also join the efforts to support Ukraine. The U.S. sends a signal to other countries that Washington will support Ukraine, reiterating the importance of such assistance and setting an example.

Today, most European NATO member states are very wary of supplying to Ukraine critical components or sensitive technologies. They rather deny than agree to joint projects with Ukraine. A U.S. decision to support Ukraine can radically change the situation for Ukraine and open a new chapter of military-technical cooperation with foreign defense companies.

However, there are some reservations. Ukrainians should not perceive the U.S. move as anything revolutionary. Ukraine should build its own defense system. The support by the United States or other countries can not be regarded as the emergence of Ukraine’s Allies. So far it is only about Western partners expressing readiness to fulfill their earlier decisions and willingness to invest some resources in Ukraine. We should not harbor any illusions that the West will provide Ukraine with a complete defense system.

In addition, for Ukraine to be ready for potential projects in military-technical cooperation, it is necessary to promote changes in the country’s military-technical policies. Ukraine has a powerful enough military-industrial potential, and there is a rapid surge of private military-industrial sector.

However, there is a number of problems hindering military cooperation and preventing some serious projects from expanding. First, there is the legal problem: Ukraine lacks laws on military-technical cooperation, the creation and production of armaments and military equipment, on public private partnerships, and more. These are the key laws that would, above all, prepare the ground for the Western defense companies to enter the Ukrainian market. This legislation would resolve the issue of ensuring equal rights of private and public companies as well as guarantee other essentials, such as payment of royalties, sealing offset agreements, etc.

The U.S. decision to support Ukraine can radically change the situation for Ukraine and open a new chapter of military-technical cooperation

Secondly, there are certain administrative problems: today, the government has no single interagency body that would be higher in its status than the ministry and take over the establishment and modernization of the entire military-technical policy, starting an actual coordination of defense industrial complex.

These two aspects greatly hinder the entry to the Ukrainian market of foreign defense companies, not just Western but also those from South Africa, Turkey, China, and other countries.

Valentyn Badrak is the Director of the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament

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