The State Department has approved a sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, marking the potential first sale of defensive weapons to Kiev since it began battling Russian-backed separatists in 2014.
The proposed sale is worth $47 million and involves 210 Javelin missiles and 37 Javelin command launch units, according to a March 1 statement from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. The Raytheon/Lockheed Martin Javelin Joint Venture would be the prime contractor on the sale.
"This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by improving the security of Ukraine," DSCA states. "The Javelin system will help Ukraine build its long-term defense capacity to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity in order to meet its national defense requirements."
Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, annexing Crimea, and is charged by Western leaders with providing significant military support to rebels in the eastern part of the country.
Since the latter stages of the Obama administration, congressional defense authorizers have called on the United States to provide defensive lethal assistance to Ukraine.
In August, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were reviewing the issue of supplying Ukraine with lethal aide. Noting the United States had provided Ukraine with $750 million in non-lethal assistance since 2015, Mattis downplayed the idea that providing Ukraine with weapons like anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft systems would damage relations with Russia.
"Defensive weapons are not provocative unless you're an aggressor, and, clearly, Ukraine is not an aggressor since it's their own territory where the fighting is happening," he said.