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Ukrainian army vets seek U.S. support in fight with Russia

Thursday, January 01, 2015

A delegation of Ukrainian army veterans seeking U.S. support for their fight against Russian-backed separatists met with leaders of the Association of the U.S. Army at its national headquarters in Arlington, Va.

A regimental commander and two battalion commanders who have been directly involved in fighting, and who are also recently elected members of the Ukrainian parliament, were part of the delegation.

They painted the situation of their army as increasingly dire, as separatists – who they referred to as terrorists – have superior Russian equipment.

The delegation came to Washington, D.C., seeking assistance, particularly with weapons and equipment such as secure communications, better anti-tank munitions, modern rifles and night vision goggles.

News reports out of Ukraine have also expressed a need for helmets and cold weather clothing, including boots, as winter arrives.

"We are the eastern border of democracy," one of the army commanders said through a translator. "We came to ask for your help."

Their visit comes as NATO officials are claiming that multiple columns of Russian convoys are on the move through eastern Ukraine, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery and more than 20 trucks with unknown supplies.

Army Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, told reporters the equipment may include Russian air defense systems and other supplies.

Russia has denied the claims. "We have stopped paying attention to the groundless accusations," said General-Major Igor Konashenkov, a representative of the Russian Defense Ministry.

Konashenkov said there is no concrete evidence to back up the claims.

The Ukraine army representatives who met with AUSA officials said they have no doubt these are Russian troops moving Russian equipment, and accused Russia of a misinformation campaign.

An example, they said, are constant reports by some Russian media that U.S. military troops are deployed in Ukraine and that some have been captured by separatist units, although no evidence has been provided of any U.S. troops held as prisoners of war.

Some humanitarian assistance has been provided to the Ukrainian army, such as food and medical care, but military weapons have not been provided.

"That doesn’t help stop Russian tanks," one of the battalion commanders said.

There is some bipartisan support in Congress to provide defensive weapons to Ukraine, but that might not include everything on their wish list.

They asked for precision, long-range weapons and for advanced radar to help locate artillery pieces.

AUSA leaders expressed concern about Russian’s involvement in Ukraine and questions Russia’s ultimate goals but made no specific promises to the Ukrainian delegation.

"We understand they are in a precarious position," said retired Army Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, AUSA’s president and a former Army chief of staff.

"We are looking at very courageous soldiers, and we appreciate it," Sullivan said.

"I want you to know we are listening," he added.