National security officials are urging President Trump to approve the sale of nearly $50 million worth of U.S. weapons to Ukraine, which has confronted what it sees as military aggression from Russia and pro-Russian separatists for years.
It was unclear whether Trump, who has been reluctant to challenge Russian President Vladimir Putin, will approve the plan.
Congressional and State Department officials said Monday the weapons proposal had gained traction in the National Security Council. The officials asked not to be named discussing internal deliberations.
At the urging of Trump’s then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, the GOP platform was watered down at the Republican National Convention in 2016 to remove a call to sell lethal weapons to Ukraine — a position long favored by the Republican establishment and ultimately by the Obama administration.
It was later revealed that Manafort had worked for pro-Russian Ukrainian leaders opposed to U.S. support for the government in Kiev. Manafort was indicted last month on charges of failing to register as a foreign agent, money laundering and conspiracy. He has pleaded not guilty.
The weapons sale under discussion would likely include Javelin anti-tank missiles and other high-tech weapons that go beyond defensive arms, a State Department official said. Some details of the package were first reported by ABC News.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has repeatedly urged the Trump administration to supply Ukraine with weapons. Doing so would garner bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.
“It is long past time for the United States to provide Ukraine the defensive lethal assistance it needs to deter and defend against further Russian aggression,” McCain said in a statement. “As long as the status quo remains, Russia has no reason to change its behavior, and we should only expect more violence and more death.”
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), another member of the Armed Services Committee, wrote Trump last week to urge stronger support for Ukraine.
“The military land-grab Russia has launched in Ukraine is unprecedented in modern European history," he wrote. “Our response should include lethal military hardware as part of a broader effort to help Ukrainians defend themselves and deter future aggression."
Congress has already approved up to $500 million in assistance for Ukraine and its defense, though not specifically for lethal weapons.