WASHINGTON – The US is sending forces to inspect American military aid delivery sites in Ukraine and keep lethal weapons off the black market, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
It is the first time US forces have set foot outside the confines of the Kyiv embassy, which has been guarded by Marines since American diplomats returned in May after fleeing the city ahead of Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.
The checks are used by the Defense and State Departments to track US-provided weaponry and ensure the more than $18 billion worth of military aid Washington has pledged Ukraine does not end up in the wrong hands, Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said.
“We have no indication that there has been any type of illicit spread of the capabilities that we provided to the Ukrainians that are being used effectively on the battlefield,” Ryder said, adding that the service members are being kept “far away from any type of frontline action.”
The State Department last week released its blueprint to help “limit potential illicit diversion of weapons by Russia’s forces, Russia’s proxies, and non-state actors.”
So far, “intense internal demand” has prevented US-donated weapons from appearing on the European underground. Instead, “[p]ro-Russian forces’ capture of Ukrainian weapons – including donated materiel” has been the main concern, according to the State Department.
More coverage on the Ukraine war
The Biden administration is particularly worried about accounting for “sensitive and advanced conventional weapons including Man-portable Air Defense Systems and anti-tank/all-purpose tactical guided missiles,” according to the State Department plan.
“The United States will continue to assist the government of Ukraine with accounting for and securing weapons, as security conditions permit,” the State Department said.
The White House has repeatedly pledged there will be no combat troops on the ground in Ukraine, an assertion Ryder repeated Tuesday.
“We’ve been very clear there are no combat forces in Ukraine, no US forces conducting combat operations in Ukraine,” he said. “These are personnel that are assigned to conduct security cooperation and assistance as part of the defense attaché office.”
The inspections were reported days after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) warned that the GOP would not write Ukraine a “blank check” if the party gains control of Congress after the Nov. 8 midterm elections.
“I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine,” McCarthy told Punchbowl News on Oct. 18.
Three days later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued a statement calling on the Biden administration to be “quick and more proactive to get Ukraine the aid they need,” such as “additional air defenses” and “long-range fires.”
“It is in America’s core national security interest to make it clear that revisionist states such as Russia or China cannot simply gobble up smaller neighbors,” he said in the Oct. 21 statement. “The Biden Administration and our allies need to do more to supply the tools Ukraine needs to thwart Russian aggression.”
In a sharp break from McCarthy, McConnell said that should Republicans earn a majority in the Senate following the upcoming midterms, the body “will focus its oversight on ensuring timely delivery of needed weapons and greater allied assistance to Ukraine.”