WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans in the U.S. Congress on Sunday urged the Obama administration to dispatch small weapons and other military equipment to aid Ukraine as Russian troops amassed at that country’s eastern border.
“You can do non-combatant military aid in a way that allows them (Ukraine) to defend themselves,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Besides small weapons, Rogers urged providing medical supplies, radio equipment and unspecified “defensive posture weapons systems.”
The Michigan Republican was careful to note, however, that he does not support using American troops to confront Russia, which has annexed Crimea from Ukraine.
Russia’s action prompted U.S. President Barack Obama last week to impose economic sanctions which were largely tailored to hit Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle without prompting a backlash from Moscow against U.S. businesses.
Since then, NATO officials warned that Russia had moved a large military force to Ukraine’s eastern border, raising fears that it could build on its success in Crimea by expanding further into Ukraine.
Deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken, interviewed on CNN, said the Obama administration was reviewing every request Ukraine is making for help.
He added, “When it comes to military assistance, we’re looking at it.” But he questioned how effective that might be.
“The facts are these: Even if assistance were to go to Ukraine, that is very unlikely to change Russia’s calculus or prevent an invasion.”
Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking senior Democrat in the Senate, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that shipping small arms to Ukraine should not be ruled out.
“Keep it on the table,” Durbin said, and “for the time being, help Ukraine’s army get on its feet” by providing materials ranging from fuel and tires to sleeping bags and meals for a force that he said was “devastated” by a recently toppled Ukrainian regime.
Durbin and a handful of other senators traveled in Ukraine last week.
Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte, who is in Ukraine, noted in an interview with “Face the Nation” that Ukraine has asked NATO for small arms. She said the United States also should send communications equipment and technical assistance, while further squeezing Russia with additional economic sanctions.
The New Hampshire senator, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said of Putin: “He’s a bully. And bullies only understand when we punch them in the nose, but we need to do that economically. That is our strongest move at this point.”
The saber-rattling in Congress came as Obama was set to travel to Europe on a trip scheduled before the Russia-Ukraine crisis heated up. He will meet with European leaders in the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy and also meet with Pope Francis.
On Monday, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to hold a procedural vote on legislation providing new economic assistance to Ukraine, which could pass the Democratic-controlled chamber later in the week.
But the measure’s fate was uncertain, as the Republican-controlled House of Representatives could block it because of opposition to the Senate bill’s inclusion of funds for the International Monetary Fund.
Meanwhile, veteran Republican Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, interviewed on ABC’s “This Week,” suggested that the United States pressure Putin to pull back from Ukraine by resuming development of a U.S. missile defense system for Eastern Europe.
“(If) you really want to catch their attention ... you reopen negotiations with the Poles and Czechs about anti-ballistic missile defense. That’s the one card I think we have to play that really wakes them up in Moscow,” Cole said.
Reporting by Richard Cowan, Eric Beech and Patrick Temple-West; Editing by Jim Loney and Cynthia Osterman