NATO Commander Backs Sending More Javelins to Ukraine

Infantry Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, fire an FGM-148 Javelin during a combined arms live fire exercise in Jordan on August 27, 2019, in support of Eager Lion. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Liane Hatch)
Infantry Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, fire an FGM-148 Javelin during a combined arms live fire exercise in Jordan on August 27, 2019, in support of Eager Lion. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Liane Hatch)

NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Tod Wolters said Thursday he backed sending more Javelin tank-killer missiles to Ukraine but steered clear of commenting on the political fallout from President Donald Trump's impeachment inquiry crisis.

At a Pentagon briefing, Wolters responded with a flat "No," when asked whether he had discussed with alliance partners the allegations that Trump pressured Ukraine's president on buying Javelins to get dirt on potential 2020 election rival Joe Biden.

"I haven't had any conversations with my mil-to-mil counterparts, or with anybody," about the allegations against Trump and the potential impact for the alliance, said Wolters, an Air Force general who doubles as head of U.S. European Command.

The same is true for his counterparts in Ukraine, Wolters said.

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Wolters' talks with Ukraine's military were "centered and focused on the operations, activities, training events and exercises that we've embraced with them," he said. "Those are the only conversations we've had."

In the briefing, Wolters repeatedly spoke to the effectiveness of the Javelins, and the eagerness of Ukraine's military to acquire them.

However, Wolters also repeatedly said the possibility that the transfer of Javelins and other military aid to Ukraine might be delayed never came up in conversations with either his NATO or Ukraine counterparts, even after allegations went public of a questionable phone call Trump made in July to Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine's president.

In their impeachment inquiry, House Democrats have charged that Trump used a phone call to threaten that military aid would be held up unless Ukraine agreed to investigate former Vice President Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

Wolters said there were "zero conversations" with his counterparts on the Trump-Zelensky phone call, but there were numerous discussions "from a U.S. perspective and from a NATO perspective to help the Ukraine military defend themselves" against Russia and the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In April, the U.S. began delivery of more than 200 Javelin anti-tank missiles and about 37 launchers to Ukraine, and Wolters said he would back sending more Javelins to Ukraine.

As Americans trained Ukraine's military on the use of the Javelins over the course of this summer, Wolters said "you [could] see a little bit of a bounce in the step of a Ukrainian soldier when he or she has had the opportunity to embrace this system that allows them to better defend their turf."

He said the Javelins were a "defensive contribution" to Ukraine's efforts to deter Russia. NATO and the U.S. have a commitment to "go into Ukraine" and assist with training for their defense, Wolters said, "and we've done so."

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

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