US Money for Ukrainian Border Guards

Ukrainian border guard

The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine used Pentagon money to go shopping in Kiev for supplies, including concertina wire for Ukraine's ill-equipped border guards, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

The Defense Department funds also bought fuel pumps, car batteries, spare parts, binoculars and communications gear for the guards, who would be the first line of defense if the 40,000 Russian troops on Ukraine's borders invaded.

Embassy personnel bought the goods locally in Kiev, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

Warren did not have an initial cost estimate for the supplies, but Evelyn Farkas, a deputy assistant defense secretary, told Congress that the Defense Department has given Ukraine's military and border guards a total of $18 million in non-lethal aid to date.

In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Farkas said that Ukraine's requests for additional aid "vastly outstrips our abilities to meet them."

The U.S. has limited aid to Ukraine for non-lethal assistance such as Meals, Ready to Eat; uniforms and medical supplies. The White House has thus far ruled out sending arms and ammunition to Ukraine.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., cited the increasing urgency of Ukraine's requests and asked why the U.S. had yet to deliver the body armor, night-vision equipment and other non-lethal aid asked for by authorities in Kiev.

"We're continuing to look at those things," said Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European Affairs, but she gave no indication on whether or when the U.S. might deliver.

The Senate hearing was held as Russia appeared to dash German proposals for re-convening peace talks on Ukraine in Geneva.

"There's no point in doing it again" while Ukraine forces press a sporadic offensive against pro-Russian armed groups who have taken over at least a dozen cities in eastern Ukraine and now threaten the main seaport of Odessa in the southeast, said Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister.

Lavrov also questioned the legitimacy of presidential elections scheduled for May 25 in Ukraine.

"In the situation where they use the army against their own population, it's quite unusual" to hold elections, Lavrov said.

The offensive by Ukrainian security forces launched last week appeared to have met with only limited success at dislodging militants.

Ukrainian authorities have acknowledged the loss of four helicopters while claiming that 30 armed militants were killed in actions centered on the flashpoint eastern town of Slovyansk. The Ukrainian forces suffered at least 14 killed and more than 60 wounded, Kiev officials said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned that the clashes could escalate into all-out war.

"The threat now is that we are reaching the point of no return -- a moment when the escalation cannot be stopped anymore and we literally are on the threshold of a war in Eastern Europe," Steinmeier told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@monster.com.

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