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Senators: US should send lethal arms to Ukraine

Ukrainian parliament speaker and interim president Olexander Turchynov (L) greets United States Senator John McCain in Kiev on March 14, 2014
Ukrainian parliament speaker and interim president Olexander Turchynov (L) greets United States Senator John McCain prior to talks in Kiev on March 14, 2014

Two influential US lawmakers urged President Barack Obama on Friday to send lethal military aid to Ukraine, arguing that Russian aggression should be a "wake up call" to the West.

The new government in Kiev has sought military assistance from the United States after Russian forces invaded Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and absorbed it, sending regional tensions soaring.

To date, the Pentagon has said it would only consider non-lethal aid to Kiev.

But hawkish Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, citing reports that Russian troops are massing near Ukraine's border, argued that President Vladimir Putin is issuing a threat that must be countered.

"We call on President Obama, together with our NATO allies, to immediately fulfill the Ukrainian government's request for military assistance," the US senators said in a statement.

Aid should include "small arms, ammunition, and defensive weapons, such as anti-armor and anti-aircraft systems" as well as non-lethal support including protective equipment and intelligence sharing capability.

"No one denies that Ukraine is overmatched militarily by Russia," they said, but the West should act now "because giving victims of aggression some better means to defend their sovereign territory against further acts of aggression is simply the right and decent thing to do."

"Events in Crimea and the growing Russian threat in Europe's east must be a wake-up call to NATO," which they said should shift assets and capabilities eastward.

Obama told Russia Friday to pull its troops back and begin negotiations on how to resolve the crisis.

But McCain and Graham, never ones to mince words over national security, offered a blunter warning: "Considering President Putin's track record of lies and aggression, it is prudent now to expect and plan for the worst."

McCain and Graham have long-called for the White House to arm Syrian rebels fighting the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, who has the Kremlin's backing in Syria's civil war.

The senators and other critics have argued that Obama's failure to enforce his red line that Assad crossed last year by using chemical weapons has emboldened Putin.

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