Written by Naja Bentzen
Against the backdrop of the intensifying conflict in eastern Ukraine, Kyiv’s calls for defensive military assistance are becoming increasingly urgent. Ahead of the peace talks in Minsk on 11 February, where Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany plan to negotiate a peace deal after months of fighting, fears of an escalation of the already violent conflict are mounting.
Russia denies accusations by Western countries and Ukraine that Moscow is sending troops to eastern Ukraine and supplying the rebels, and Putin has warned the West that sending arms to Ukraine could worsen the crisis. Although US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to continue sanctions and diplomatic measures, pressure in the US to send defensive weapons to Ukraine is increasing. Some EU countries – including Germany, France, the UK, and Finland – remain very cautious in the face of these demands, warning that sending weapons to Ukraine could escalate the conflict. Lithuania and Estonia, however, have spoken out in favour of sending arms to Ukraine, and Poland has signalled support for the US position, albeit stating that military support would be ‘worth avoiding’.
On a similar note, experts from renowned think-tanks are divided on the issue. While some believe that the West should not provide arms to Ukraine, arguing that the West still needs Russia as a partner, others warn that Russia could be preparing for ‘another major Russian/separatist offensive’ in Ukraine, and thus urge direct military assistance in the form of defensive lethal weapons.