The question of the U.S. granting lethal aid to Ukraine has two components to it – military and military-political.
As for the purely military component, first of all, it should be understood what kind of weapons the U.S. decided to sell or supply Ukraine with. Among them there will be small arms: modification of the assault M16-M4 assault rifle, an upgraded RGD7 grenade launcher, and Barrett sniper rifles. Washington provided to Ukraine an export license for the sale of Barrett (M-107) rifles, components and ammunition to them. The rifle is capable of hitting targets at a 2km distance, and it is so-called "material" weapon, that is, it leads not so much to the destruction of manpower at great distances, but to the disabling of light armored vehicles and suppression of bunkers.
Also, people often talk about the Javelin missiles. This is a modern effective anti-tank weapon, or rather an anti-tank guided missile system. The main principle of its operation is "fire-and-forget", that is, you take aim, fire, and go on dealing with some other routine. For example, the Ukrainian-made "Stuhna" is guided by a laser beam, that is, you shoot and then need to keep the target in crosshairs until the missile hits it. However, a sniper might take down the shooter during this period. But, once you launch a Javelin missile, you can just get back in the shelter.
Another feature of Javelin is that the missile is capable of hitting armored vehicles from above where they are most vulnerable. So that really is a great weapon.
The delivery of Javelins this year will be included in the $350 million military aid to Ukraine provided for by the U.S. budget. Some $50 million will be allocated for 10 missiles and 35 Javelin launchers. Not much, really. This amount of Javelins is unlikely to fundamentally affect the situation in Donbas.
However, once Russia is aware of the fact that its adversary has a very effective remedy, it will behave a bit differently. Besides, Ukraine is constantly increasing its own anti-tank forces, and it is important for the country to win some more time.
As for the military-political component, it boils down to the fact that this decision by the U.S. to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons will serve as a starting point for the further development and deepening of relations between Kyiv and Washington. And, in addition, this move will be an example for other countries. Canada has already green-lighted the step to supply small arms to Ukraine. A number of other countries will act the same when they see that Washington has given a go-ahead on these issues.
Some have strange fears in connection with the U.S. decision. That’s suggesting that if the Americans start supplying lethal aid to Ukraine, the Russians will start supplying exactly the same weapons to the “LPR” and “DPR”. But Russia cannot “start” doing it simply because they have been doing it since 2014, trying to cover up their efforts with supposedly humanitarian convoys. In general, Ukrainian citizens should not have any illusions that something like that will begin. What can Russia provide militants with? What, will they deploy nuclear arms in the occupied territory? Of course, not. “Thanks” to Russia, everything has already been brought into Donbas. Russia and its proxies have not yet carried out massive air strikes, massed missile strikes or nuclear attacks, but every other weapon has already been used on their part. They even engaged elements of chemical weapons in this war, in particular, in the Donetsk Airport.
In addition, we shouldn’t forget that Moscow is using military operations in the east of Ukraine as a training ground where it uses both expired shells and weapons, and tests new types of arms.
Certainly, to some extent the realization of the fact that Ukraine will henceforth have more effective weapons will serve as a deterrent for Russia. After all, the use of such weapons will mean unacceptable losses for Russia. Moscow will have to take into account the fact that the potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has increased significantly, therefore it will not be possible for Moscow to carry out military operations as easily as in Crimea or in the first days of war in Donbas. Now Russia will have to take into account the fact that such actions will turn into unacceptable losses for it, so this will be deterring Moscow.
Ihor Romanenko is a Ukrainian Army Lt. Gen (Rtd), Candidate of Military Sciences, Doctor of Technical Sciences, Professor, ex-Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces