The State Department has officially approved a possible $47 million sale of Javelin antitank missiles and related equipment to Ukraine, the Pentagon announced Thursday.
The move marks a significant escalation of lethal aid to Ukraine in its ongoing struggles against Russia.
“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by improving the security of Ukraine,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in its official notice. “The Javelin system will help Ukraine build its long-term defense capacity to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity in order to meet its national defense requirements. Ukraine will have no difficulty absorbing this system into its armed forces.
“The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”
Congress was officially notified of the sale Thursday, according to the notice.
That sets off a 30-day clock for Congress to block the sale if it so chooses. But lawmakers from both parties have been broadly supportive of selling lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine.
“Ukraine is a critical ally to the United States, and I am so pleased to see our country provide this long-overdue assistance in Ukraine’s fight to push back against growing Russian aggression,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said in a statement Thursday after comments from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko indicated the weapons approval was imminent. “Providing lethal aid to Ukraine shows that the United States is serious about protecting the interests of our nation and our allies.”
On Wednesday, Poroshenko said the “first delivery should happen in a very few weeks.”
Ukraine has long requested the weapons to bolster its fight against Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.
The Obama administration, however, limited its support to nonlethal aid as it was worried injecting such weapons into the conflict would make an already volatile situation worse.
But late last year, the Trump administration said it approved the plan to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine.
Administration officials have been dismissive of the idea that such weapons could worsen the conflict.
“Defensive weapons are not provocative unless you’re an aggressor, and clearly, Ukraine is not an aggressor, since it’s their own territory where the fighting is happening,” Defense Secretary James Mattis said last year during a trip to Kiev.
Russia reacted angrily to the December decision to provide the weapons and is likely to react similarly to the official approval of the sale.
The sale announced Thursday would include 210 Javelin missiles and 37 control launch units (CLU), plus two CLUs as spares.
The missiles are coming from U.S. Army stocks and the CLUs are from stocks bought with a fund known as Special Defense Acquisition Fund that allows the State Department to pre-purchase equipment for expected requests.