“I would also point out that on defensive lethal weapons – we are actively reviewing it,” Mattis said at a news conference alongside Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Thursday.
“I will go back now having seen the current situation and be able to inform the secretary of state and the president on the specific terms what I recommend for the direction ahead,” he added.
The Pentagon chief also said that Washington had recently decided to supply Ukraine with more than $175 million worth of equipment.
“For example, we have just approved, just very recently, last couple of weeks, another $175 million worth of equipment, including some specialized equipment that can be used to help defend the country, bringing to a total of nearly $750 million in the last several years,” Mattis stated.
Mattis also pledged to support Ukraine over Crimea, which reunited with Russia after a referendum in 2014. Ukraine, backed by Western governments, rejected the results of the referendum, and sanctions were imposed on Russia when the region seceded from Ukraine.
“The United States stands with Ukraine in all things,” Mattis said over the Crimean issue.
“We do not and we will not accept Russia’s seizure of the Crimea and despite Russia’s denials, we know they are seeking to redraw international borders by force, undermining the sovereign and free nations of Europe,” he told reporters.
Washington has planned to provide Kiev with $350 million in security assistance in 2017, according to the 2017 National Defense Authorizations Act. It is $50 million more compared to 2016.
The sum is to cover “equipment and technical assistance to the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine for the purpose of developing a comprehensive border surveillance network for Ukraine” as well as “training for staff officers and senior leadership of the military,” the act says.
In June, following a meeting with Donald Trump, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was optimistic about reaching agreement with the US on supplies of “defensive weapons.”
“As for the defensive agreements, we now have an almost consensual text of the agreement [about the arms supplies],”Poroshenko said.
Moscow has warned that supplying Ukraine with lethal weapons will only exacerbate the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
“The masterminds of the plan to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine, apparently, proceed from the assumption that the situation in the east of this country isn’t explosive enough already and that it’s needed to add fuel to the fire,” said Mikhail Ulyanov, the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control.
The defensive nature of the weapons “does not change the essence of the matter,” Ulyanov said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also called for refraining from any actions that can trigger violence in Ukraine.
“Our stance is well-known: we believe that all countries, especially those that are looking to be part of the settlement [of the Ukrainian conflict], must avoid any sort of actions which can provoke another spike in tensions in the already difficult region,” Peskov said.