WASHINGTON — Democratic senators joined their Republican colleagues Wednesday in calling for some U.S. military aid to Ukraine after receiving a closed-door briefing from senior Obama administration officials.
Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan, the Armed Services Committee chairman, and Bill Nelson of Florida added themselves to the small but growing chorus of lawmakers favoring weapons deliveries to Ukraine's military to fight Russia-backed rebels in the east of the country. Thus far the Obama administration has said it doesn't believe U.S. military assistance is necessary.
Levin said he supported transferring certain types of defensive equipment.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he noted widespread bipartisan "unease" with the current U.S. policy at the briefing.
The belief of the administration, he said, is that Russia is prepared to join the war to protect Ukraine's separatists. In contrast, he says, the U.S. doesn't have a strategy.
Officials couldn't provide any estimation on how long they thought sanctions would take to change Russia's behavior, Graham said, or how long they believed they had before Russia was drawn fully into the conflict.
"The bottom line is this administration is afraid of confronting the Russians," Graham said.
In addition to lethal aid, Graham said sanctions must get much tougher, targeting Russia's massive natural gas sector and President Vladimir Putin personally.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., called the administration's failure to provide weapons "shameful."
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., complained that Ukraine hasn't even received much of the nonlethal assistance the administration has promised.