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US to send Ukraine drones, more aid, but no lethal weapons

Created: 03/12/2015 12:52 AM
By: By LOLITA C. BALDOR and NEDRA PICKLER

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States announced Wednesday that it is sending small unarmed drones, armored Humvees and other assistance to Ukraine in its fight against Russian-backed separatists. Lethal weapons were not included, to the dismay of some U.S. lawmakers.

The White House said President Barack Obama is still considering whether to send weapons to Ukraine's military, weighing the risks that such aid could further inflame conflict in which more than 6,000 people have died.

"That bloodshed is something that we're trying to avoid and de-escalate," said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. "So the president is very mindful of the potential risk that's associated with providing additional lethal military assistance to the Ukrainians."

Word of the new aid came in a telephone call Wednesday from Vice President Joe Biden to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The White House said Biden also expressed concern that Russian-backed separatists are violating cease-fire agreements in eastern Ukraine and keeping out international monitors.

Earnest said the new aid includes unmanned drones to help defend Ukrainian forces and enhance their communication; radios and other secure communications equipment; radars to warn and protect against mortar and artillery fire; and medical equipment, including military ambulances.

U.S. officials, speaking on a condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the aid on the record, said it includes small Raven drones systems, which can be launched by hand. The U.S. also will send 30 heavily armored Humvees and 200 other regular Humvees.

The drones and other equipment, not including the Humvees, are worth about $75 million. It's not clear how many drones would be sent or what the Humvees cost.

Members of Congress from both parties repeatedly have urged Obama to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons to defend themselves. Cory Fritz, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the new aid "will be completely ineffective."

"The Ukrainians are begging for help, and the Congress is begging the administration to provide the defensive lethal assistance we authorized in December. Our allies deserve better," Fritz said.

Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that administration officials are discussing lethal assistance and are watching whether the agreements that led to last month's cease-fire are implemented.

Nuland said that in the past few days, there have been new transfers of Russian tanks, armored vehicles, heavy artillery and rocket equipment over the border to the separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denies arming rebels in the war in eastern Ukraine, which began in April after Moscow annexed the mostly Russian-speaking Crimean Peninsula.

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Follow Baldor on Twitter at https://twitter.com/lbaldor and Pickler at https://twitter.com/nedrapickler

(Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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