New Short-Term Spending Bill Would Continue to Hamper the Military

Lawmakers are discussing the possibility of passing yet another continuing resolution on Jan. 19 to keep the government from shutting down.

If another continuing resolution comes to fruition, it will be the fourth one since the fiscal year started back on Oct. 1. As of now, we have already passed more than one-quarter of the fiscal year, but the federal government has been unable to agree on appropriations allocation and has instead relied on temporary measures.

These resolutions are specially damaging to how the Department of Defense operates and defends the nation. This would come at a time when our forces are under considerable stress.

In recent years, our military has suffered substantial deterioration. As described by Heritage Foundation senior fellow Dakota Wood, “It’s too small for its workload, underfunded to repair and replace equipment that is rapidly wearing out, and ill-served by obsolescent infrastructure at its ports, bases, and airfields.”

Continuing resolutions come with a prohibition against the department starting new programs or changing the production quantity of ongoing programs. The department identified close to 75 weapons programs that suffer delays owing to the prohibition on new starts.

Furthermore, operating under a continuing resolution affects 40 programs owing to the inability to change production quantities.

As the Congressional Research Service points out, the Department of Defense “faces unique challenges operating under a [continuing resolution] while providing the military forces needed to deter war and defend the country.”

In order to address these problems, it is possible for the Defense Department to ask Congress to include specific language in the next continuing resolution—referred to as “anomalies”—to ameliorate these problems. Congress tends to prefer “clean” continuing resolutions, since anomalies start to encroach on legislative prerogatives or program oversight.

Thus, the best way to address these issues is through the appropriation of the defense budget. A defense budget based on the National Defense Authorization Act, passed with strong bipartisan support and signed by President Donald Trump on Dec. 12, is the best basis for the defense budget.

This indicates that there is broad agreement that our military needs more resources and that the government is willing to authorize these resources.

The missing key is agreeing on actually allocating the resources that Congress thinks are necessary for our nation’s defense. The Budget Control Act caps are still in place and prevent lawmaker from spending what the National Defense Authorization Act prescribed.

Congress has been unable to overcome the current political discussions on the federal budget, and thus our nation’s defense and the U.S. military are left dangling while negotiations focus on extraneous issues.

As long as this indecision and continuing resolutions are the norm, Congress will continue to create uncertainties and prevent long-term planning.

Another continuing resolution would create further inefficiencies in the Department of Defense, ensuring that defense dollars will not go as far as they could.

Congress and the American people agree that we need to invest more in defense. It’s time to either pepper a new continuing resolution with all the defense anomalies required, or let the National Defense Authorization Act guide the department’s budget for 2018.

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This Conservative Lawmaker Explains Why the Embassy Move to Jerusalem Matters

President Donald Trump’s administration is working to build peace in the Middle East, and a big part of that process is the administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, one lawmaker says.  

In the Arab world, if you are acting swiftly and with strength, that is something that makes a big impression on a lot of those leaders, even if you are acting against those interests,” Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., said in a speech Thursday at The Heritage Foundation, adding:

If you are the strong horse, that is something they respect. When you show yourself to be backing down and be a weak horse, even if you are doing it in a way and taking a position that they agree with, that causes them to wonder whether you can keep your word or not, and so I think for Trump’s personal prestige, it was important. I also think it was good for the country.

DeSantis, who chairs the House subcommittee on national security said Trump’s Dec. 6 reaffirmation recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his order to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem showed a resolve to leaders of countries in the Middle East not seen before.

Speaking about the embassy move, DeSantis noted that Trump isn’t the first president to commit to it. “Bush promised it and didn’t do it, Clinton promised it and didn’t do it, Obama—although I find it hard to believe he actually meant it when he promised it, … he obviously was never going to move the embassy to Jerusalem or recognize it.”

In March, DeSantis went to tour possible embassy sites in Jerusalem, expecting that the president would make good on his campaign promise to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“We identified all the sites, potential sites where you could establish an American embassy,” the Florida lawmaker said. “And I am engaged in this now about what sites they are choosing and I think that we might find out very, very soon some very positive news about one of the sites we profiled.”

DeSantis said he thinks Trump’s leadership will inspire other Middle Eastern countries to work with the United States toward stabilization in the region.

“This is a president who understands the threat posed by Iran and posed by the Iran nuclear deal,” DeSantis said, adding:

That is music to the ears of the gulf states, places like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, they fear Iran’s influence … Do they want our embassy moved to Jerusalem? No. But are they going to cry a river over that when they need to work with us, and work with Israel, to combat Iranian influence? Of course not. Their interests are to align with the United States and with Israel to combat the Iranian threat.

Elliot Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, spoke on a panel after DeSantis’ remarks and said he thinks the road to stability in the Middle East is often misrepresented.

“Frequently, the question is asked is, how do we get to the two-state solution? And that is not the right question,” Abrams said. “The right question is how do we get to peace, the two-state question is a derivative of [it]. If it helps peace, it is a good thing. If not, it needs to be rethought.”

Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, joined Abrams on the panel discussion and said bringing peace to the Middle East will be a process of changing hearts.

“By my analysis over the past century, 80 percent of Palestinians have been rejectionists, and 20 percent have accepted Israel, and the goal must be to expand that 20 percent to 40-60 percent,” Pipes said. “My goal is encourage an increasing number of Palestinians to recognize that the conflict is over, I am less focused on leaders … I think [if] you want a change of heart, you want a people to recognize that it is no longer worth their while to engage in, say, suicide attacks, because it is futile.”

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The Wall Is Not Enough. Here’s How to Solve Illegal Immigration.

President Donald Trump held talks with leaders of both political parties on Tuesday to discuss a major agenda item for this year: immigration.

This issue, specifically illegal immigration, is one that Trump has devoted great energy to since the early days of his campaign. And it’s one conservatives must make a top priority this year.

We’ve made some important strides in this area. 2017 saw border crossings fall to their lowest level since 1971, thanks to the Trump administration’s policies. But there are still hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants trying to cross into the U.S.

There are also hundreds of thousands of visitors to the U.S. who continue overstay their visas. So it’s worth considering, at the outset of 2018, how to solve this problem.

For a lot of people, border security is what first comes to mind—often embodied by Trump’s appeal for building a “wall.” This focus on border security is a valid priority.

It’s clear that the U.S. can make improvements at its borders to stop additional illegal immigration. These include adding physical barriers where they would be effective, improved technology to monitor the border, and ensuring that we have appropriately equipped border patrol agents watching our border.

This holistic approach of combining barriers, technology, and people is the cost-effective way to secure the border. Build “the wall” is not enough.

Congress and the administration could build a large wall on a mountain in the middle of a desert in New Mexico, but that would not be the best use of limited security dollars. The mountainous terrain already acts as a natural wall that prevents border crossing.

Furthermore, a wall in a remote desert would barely slow down illegal immigrants. It would only take them a few minutes to get over the wall, but after that it would take them hours to reach the nearest town or road—the proverbial speedbump in the desert.

Instead, our tax money would be better spent on technology or additional agents would could respond to and detect illegal crossings.

This is what White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson, and many of the pro-enforcement policy community thinks is the best way to secure our border.

But let’s step back. Is better border security even the main way to stop illegal immigration?

It is certainly a piece of puzzle. The more important piece, however, is the enforcement of U.S. immigration law within the country.

Once an illegal immigrant is picked up at the border, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and immigration courts must actually remove the illegal immigrant. Border security is only as good as the enforcement that backs it up.

Furthermore, border security does nothing to help stop visa overstays. Only interior enforcement can do that.

So while border security helps us catch some illegal immigrants, robust enforcement across our nation helps us catch and remove them, thus helping to deter all illegal immigration.

Already, the president and members of Congress are considering changes to our immigration policy. If they truly want to stop illegal immigration, some good places to start would be: expanding the number of ICE officers, pushing back on sanctuary cities, expediting deportations, and increasing the efficiency and number of immigration courts.

These measures, coupled with improved and cost-effective border security, would go a long way to solving our illegal immigration problem. It’s hard to imagine a better resolution for 2018.

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US Weapons and Chinese Cash Compete for Influence in Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine—In the days and weeks after Kyiv celebrated achieving its foreign policy holy grail—the promise of lethal U.S. anti-tank weaponry—China announced a laundry list of new infrastructure projects across Ukraine, pulling back the curtains on what some say is a looming competition for influence in the embattled, post-Soviet state.

“There is indeed an obvious and irresolvable contradiction in the short- and long-term interests being pursued by American and Chinese investment in Ukraine,” Vladislav Davidzon, editor-in-chief of the English-language Odessa Review news magazine, told The Daily Signal.

Amid the backdrop of Russia’s ongoing proxy war in the eastern Donbas region, Chinese infrastructure investments in Ukraine collectively dwarf the total value of the long-awaited U.S. weapons deal.

Those Chinese projects include a $500 million loan from China’s CCEC trading firm—announced Dec. 22, the same day as the U.S. Javelin deal—to finance affordable housing for, among others, Ukrainian war veterans and people displaced by the conflict in the Donbas.

The war in Ukraine is not over. On average, one Ukrainian soldier still dies in combat every three days. (Photos: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)

Ukraine’s future is no longer—if it ever was—a binary struggle between a pro-Western and a pro-Russian future.

Now, China is decidedly in the mix, making steady inroads in Ukraine through wide-ranging financial investments and infrastructure projects intended to prepare the country for its role in China’s One Belt, One Road land trade route across Asia to Europe—a mantelpiece of Chinese foreign policy also known as the New Silk Road.

As China’s economic clout in Ukraine grows, it could mean a loss of U.S. influence, some experts say, possibly even playing to Moscow’s advantage.

“If Chinese investment and Russian aggression in Eastern Europe are not matched by corresponding U.S. economic and military measures in coming years, the U.S. and its partners risk ceding influence in the region to hostile revanchist powers,” Franklin Holcomb, a Russia and Ukraine analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, told The Daily Signal in an earlier interview.

Upping the Ante?

Since the outset of Russia’s hybrid war in 2014, Ukrainian officials had been soliciting America for lethal weaponry—the Javelin anti-tank missile in particular—as a way both to defend itself from Russian aggression on the battlefields of the Donbas and to deter Moscow from future offensives.

Former President Barack Obama never approved the move, ostensibly due to fears of escalating the conflict by sparking a tit-for-tat arms race with Russia.

However, after months of deliberation, news broke Dec. 22 that the administration of President Donald Trump had approved a Javelin weapons package for Ukraine reportedly worth $47 million, comprising 210 anti-tank missiles and 35 launchers.

Earlier in December, the Trump administration also approved a $41.5 million deal for Tennessee-based Barrett Firearms Manufacturing to sell Model M107A1 sniper rifles, ammunition, and accessories to Ukraine.

So far, the U.S. weapons deal has not spurred Russian military escalation, as some had feared. Instead—whether by design or by happenstance—there’s been a steady drumbeat of announced Chinese infrastructure projects in Ukraine.

First, news of Chinese company CCEC’s $500 million loan for housing mortgages came Dec. 22, the same day as the Javelin deal.

CCEC also has plans to build a $400 million passenger railway connecting Kyiv with its Boryspil International Airport, as well as an ambitious solar energy farm near the contaminated Chernobyl nuclear energy facility.

Days later, on Dec. 28, Ukraine’s Ministry of Economic Development reported that China and Ukraine had agreed to speed construction of grain elevators, silos, port terminals, highways, and railroads as part of a larger plan to promote renewable energy and improve cooperation between the two countries’ customs authorities.

The same week, the Odesa region signed a cooperation agreement with China’s Jiangxi province—a move reportedly intended to improve transportation infrastructure in the Ukrainian region, the major point of entry for trade with China.

And China Harbor Engineering Co. announced Dec. 29 it had completed dredging 4.4 million cubic meters of soil from Ukraine’s busiest port of Yuzhny. The $38 million project was completed three months ahead of schedule, officials said.

Ukrainian troops say the U.S. Javelin anti-tank missiles will be a morale booster.

“The dredging is a key part of the Ukrainian government strategy to make Yuzhny an important transport hub on the crossroads of global trade and a link in the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative,” the Chinese news site China Daily reported in October.

In the days that followed, Chinese plans for a ring road around Kyiv were announced, along with other Chinese road projects in the vicinity of Ukraine’s capital city.

Chinese companies also have plans to build a $2 billion new metro line in Kyiv.

All of these Chinese projects had been in the works well prior to the Trump administration’s decision on the Javelins, and are not likely to be tit-for-tat Chinese reprisals for the U.S. weapons deal, experts say.

Still, the concurrent timing of the announcements highlights Beijing’s burgeoning economic footprint in Ukraine, and could foreshadow a new geopolitical rivalry unfolding between China and the West over influence in Ukraine.

“The Americans are not putting as much hard capital on the table in terms of long-term investment in infrastructure as the Chinese are, and those lesser publicized investments in grain elevators, highways, and metro lines in Kyiv may play out in ways that the Americans may not like sometime in the future,” said Davidzon, the Odessa Review editor-in-chief.

Overall, bilateral trade between Ukraine and China went up by 17 percent last year, making China Ukraine’s third-largest trading partner behind the European Union and Russia.

China is now the top purchaser of military equipment from Ukraine, totaling $90 million in sales in 2016. And from June 2016 to July 2017, Ukrainian grain supplies to China went up by 11 percent over the preceding one-year period.

For its part, in May 2017, the U.S. Congress approved at least $560 million in financial assistance for Ukraine in fiscal year 2018. The overall sum included more than $410 million for various nonmilitary assistance programs.

On the commercial front, U.S. firms have made inroads in Ukraine in other areas, such as key deals for supplying coal and nuclear fuel supplies—supplanting Russian commercial sources in the process.

Business as Usual

Ukraine and China established their strategic partnership for the New Silk Road project in 2011—a time when Russia still had considerable sway over Ukraine.

At that time, Hu Jintao was president of China and Kremlin ally Viktor Yanukovych was Ukraine’s president.

In a Dec. 3, 2013, meeting with newly minted Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, Yanukovych pledged increased bilateral ties and laid the groundwork for more Chinese infrastructure projects from 2014 to 2018 in order to integrate Ukraine into China’s New Silk Road Economic Belt.

“Xi said the two countries should work to build a fair and just new international political order, tackle global challenges, and protect mutual interests,” the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported, describing the 2013 meeting between Yanukovych and Xi in Beijing.

That December 2013 meeting between the Chinese and Ukrainian presidents came only two weeks after protests erupted in Kyiv’s central square—the Maidan—over widespread discontent with Yanukovych’s decision to ditch a trade deal with the EU in favor of closer economic ties with Russia.

A Ukrainian soldier in the eastern war zone.

In fact, on Nov. 30, just days prior to the Beijing meeting with Xi, Yanukovych had unleashed his infamous special police force, the Berkut, to violently disperse the Maidan protesters—sparking even more widespread riots the next day.

Those protests eventually swelled to become a full-blown revolution that ended with Yanukovych’s ouster the following February. (He subsequently fled to exile in Russia.)

Yet, the Sino-Ukrainian strategic partnership that the deposed Ukrainian president set in motion has continued without a hiccup under the helm of Ukraine’s post-revolutionary government, even as that same government courts closer ties to its Western partners and follows through on a political and economic divorce from Moscow.

Since its former straw man in Kyiv was the one who originally proposed the idea, a common line of thinking among experts is that Moscow may well see the recent deepening of Sino-Ukrainian relations as a positive development—or, at least a tolerable one.

“While the Russians may not like this dynamic particularly much, Moscow is too dependent on good will from China in strategic and economic terms to do much about it,” Alexander Clarkson, a lecturer in European studies at King’s College London, told The Daily Signal.

“The Russians need the Chinese far more than the Chinese need the Russians,” Clarkson said. “There is also a convergence of interests in terms of staving off threats of reform and revolution in two authoritarian regimes. But as the more powerful partner, Beijing can always set the terms of cooperation with Moscow.”

The Bottom Line

One area in which Ukrainian and Chinese relations have evolved significantly since 2014 is the military-industrial sector.

For one, China is now Ukraine’s top buyer of military equipment.

China also has recruited Ukrainian military engineers and scientists for its own military technology programs, putting them to use in myriad ways, including the development of tanks and aviation technology.

Ukraine suspended military sales to Russia in March 2014 in the wake of Russia’s invasion and seizure of Crimea. And the following June, as Russia’s proxy war in the Donbas escalated, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko completely banned cooperation with Russia in the defense sector.

Ukraine’s boosted defense trade with China has, to some degree, supplanted its lost defense business with Russia.

Still, Chinese investments in Ukraine are about a mutual bottom line with no democratic reform quid pro quos (as Western investments typically have). This characteristic appeals to Moscow, some say, despite whatever misgivings Kremlin officials may harbor about losing political sway and business in Ukraine to China.

“I don’t really think any Chinese investment in Ukraine will cause a Beijing-Moscow rift,” Clarkson said.

“For both the Ukrainians and the Chinese, this is purely business, a convergence of economic interests particularly in the transport and agricultural sectors,” he added. “Both sides could potentially make a lot of money from each other, so deals were there to be done whoever is in power in Kyiv.”

Middle Way

Following Ukraine’s pro-Western revolution in 2014, Moscow embarked on a hybrid warfare campaign to retain influence over its former Soviet vassal.

Russia invaded and seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, then launched a proxy conventional war in eastern Ukraine as well as a countrywide hybrid assault comprising cyberattacks and weaponized propaganda.

Since 2014, Russia has fueled the conflict in eastern Ukraine by sending weapons and its own troops to support the proxy separatist territories it controls.

The war is not over. The conflict has so far killed more than 10,300 Ukrainians, and on average, one Ukrainian soldier still dies in combat every three days.

However, Russia’s gambit to re-establish influence in Ukraine has failed. Today’s Ukraine—both in terms of politics and public opinion—is resolutely pro-Western and more anti-Russian than ever.

Nevertheless, Ukraine has paid a heavy price for its post-revolutionary, pro-Western pivot.

Each time Ukraine accepts Western aid, whether financial or military, or takes a step toward furthering ties with the West, it risks the chance of a Russian reprisal.

Whether in the form of artillery barrages in the east or countrywide cyberattacks on utilities and banks, Moscow has used multiple means of aggression since 2014 to destabilize Ukraine’s democratic metamorphosis.

Ukrainian soldiers shelter in a basement during a combined Russian-separatist artillery barrage.

U.S. support has helped Ukraine defend itself from Russian aggression and keep its reforms on track despite Moscow’s myriad means of interference.

“In the short term, the diplomatic, economic, military, and political support proffered by the Americans is certainly irreplaceable, and is what ensures that the state does not collapse, though all such overt support is obviously an irritant to Russia,” Davidzon said.

Russia doesn’t see China as a zero-sum game competitor for influence in Ukraine like it does the West. Moreover, going toe-to-toe with China over Ukraine ultimately would not be in Moscow’s overall best interests.

So, some say that Chinese investments could offer Ukraine a “middle way” to rebuild its economy without provoking further Russian retribution.

“Big deals between Ukraine and China will neither draw Beijing away from Moscow nor Moscow from Beijing,” Clarkson said. “It’s all strictly business.”

Still, others argue that China’s increased clout in Ukraine ultimately will be Russia’s loss.

“The fact remains that China and Russia are strategic competitors in the long term, and China has no interest in Russia’s projecting military power into Eastern Europe,” Michael Druckman, resident program director for Ukraine at the International Republican Institute, a U.S. think tank, told The Daily Signal.

Hearts and Minds

After four years of constant combat, about 60,000 Ukrainian troops remain engaged in a static, trench warfare conflict against a combined force of about 35,000 pro-Russian separatists, foreign mercenaries, and Russian regulars.

The war is mostly fought at a distance using indirect fire weapons like artillery, rockets, and mortars. Snipers also frequently engage targets across no man’s land, which can vary in width from a few kilometers in some places to others where the two sides are so close they can shout insults to one another.

Conventional combat operations are confined along a 250-mile-long front line in Ukraine’s embattled southeastern Donbas region. Although, Russia’s hybrid tactics—like cyberwarfare and weaponized propaganda—affect the entire country.

Tactically, the U.S. Javelins will give the Ukrainian troops a potent defense against Russian armor on the battlefields of the Donbas.

Still, the delivery of U.S. anti-tank weaponry won’t likely affect the overall outcome of the war, nor will it give Ukraine the means to parry a full-blown Russian invasion. The move will, however, make any Russia escalations of the current conflict much costlier in terms of casualties and destroyed military hardware.

Beyond their battlefield utility, the Javelins are a potent moral booster for Ukrainian troops enduring their fourth straight Continental winter in the trenches. And, above all, together with the authorization for the sale of U.S. sniper rifles to Ukraine, U.S. lethal weapons deliveries are a foreign policy home run for Kyiv.

Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, touted Trump’s decision to send Ukraine Javelins as “a transatlantic vaccination against the Russian virus of aggression.”

Game-Changer

Chinese investments, on the other hand, are a less diplomatically glitzy win for Ukraine.

However, in the long run, Ukraine’s key role in China’s One Belt, One Road trade route could be a real game-changer for its economy.

During a Dec. 5 visit to Kyiv, Chinese Vice Premier Ma Kai announced plans for $7 billion in joint projects between China and Ukraine. In turn, Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman announced that 2019 would be the “year of China” in Ukraine.

“China has been and still remains our strategic partner and our strategic priority,” Groysman said after the meeting with Kai.

Although many experts say Russian and Chinese interests in Ukraine are more or less complementary, there have been intimations that Ukraine might leverage its new economic relationship with Beijing to put pressure on Moscow to back off its aggression.

A quiet moment in the eastern Ukrainian war zone.

For instance, Poroshenko issued a statement after Kai’s December visit in which the Ukrainian president stressed “the importance of China’s adhering to the consistent position of respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.”

For China, its burgeoning influence in Ukraine could provide an opportunity to play peacemaker with Moscow—a move that would upstage longstanding U.S. and European efforts to end the conflict.

“With its investments, China becomes friends with everyone in Ukraine,” Fatima-Zohra Er-Rafia, a corporate consultant and researcher who specializes in Asia, told The Daily Signal.

“[China] can then advise both parties wisely to avoid an escalation of the situation while keeping in mind that it needs stability in the region for its own geo-economic goals—such as the New Silk Road,” Er-Rafia said. “And, since China is a member of the U.N. Security Council, China can also be a part of the solution to the Ukrainian issue, showing the world once again that China is a key player in Eurasia and beyond.”

No Strings Attached

Ukraine is haltingly evolving away from a Russia-style, post-Soviet kleptocracy. But the allure of no-strings-attached Chinese cash could dampen the imperative for making reforms that Western aid packages, through their pro-reform riders, have tried to foster.

Recently, Ukraine has taken a few jabs from its Western partners for its halting reforms.

The European Union announced Dec. 1 that it was withholding the final 600 million-euro (about $718 million) tranche of a larger 1.8 billion-euro (about $2.2 billion) financial assistance package to Ukraine due to insufficient reform progress.

And a U.S. congressional authorization for $500 million worth of military aid for Ukraine in fiscal year 2018 is contingent on a determination by the U.S. secretary of defense “that Ukraine has taken substantial action to make defense institutional reforms critical to sustaining capabilities developed using security assistance.”

For Kyiv, then, another potential bright side to China’s economic investments is that they don’t come with a to-do list of reforms.

“The Chinese government also does not care about the Ukrainians making difficult decisions and meeting reform targets to access those funds, which makes them an attractive investor in many ways,” said Davidzon, the Odessa Review editor-in-chief.

Conversely, some experts see reason to celebrate the convergence of Western and Chinese economic interests in Ukraine.

One line of thinking is that Ukraine’s pro-Western momentum is irreversible and the process of courting international investments—whether from the West or from China—will incentivize Kyiv to follow through on its reform agenda for the sake of creating a more investor-friendly environment.

“I believe Ukraine’s future is now firmly planted in the West and that America and the EU remain its most important partners,” said Druckman, the resident program director for Ukraine at the International Republican Institute.

“Ukraine’s ability to fight corruption and strengthen rule of law through good governance will make it a stronger and more reliable partner for foreign investment, including Chinese, rather than one based on corruption and the lack of accountable governance,” Druckman said.

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Abedin Forwarded State Passwords to Yahoo Before It Was Hacked by Foreign Agents

Huma Abedin forwarded sensitive State Department emails, including passwords to government systems, to her personal Yahoo email account before every single Yahoo account was hacked, a Daily Caller News Foundation analysis of emails released as part of a lawsuit brought by Judicial Watch shows.

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Abedin, the top aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, used her insecure personal email provider to conduct sensitive work. This guarantees that an account with high-level correspondence in Clinton’s State Department was impacted by one or more of a series of breaches—at least one of which was perpetrated by a “state-sponsored actor.”

The U.S. later charged Russian intelligence agent Igor Sushchin with hacking 500 million Yahoo email accounts. The initial hack occurred in 2014 and allowed his associates to access accounts into 2015 and 2016 by using forged cookies. Sushchin also worked for the Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital, which paid former President Bill Clinton $500,000 for a June 2010 speech in Moscow.

A separate hack in 2013 compromised 3 billion accounts across multiple Yahoo properties, and the culprit is still unclear. “All Yahoo user accounts were affected by the August 2013 theft,” the company said in a statement.

Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, regularly forwarded work emails to her personal humamabedin@yahoo.com address. “She would use these accounts if her (State) account was down or if she needed to print an email or document. Abedin further explained that it was difficult to print from the DoS system so she routinely forwarded emails to her non-DoS accounts so she could more easily print,” an FBI report says.

Abedin sent passwords for her government laptop to her Yahoo account on Aug. 24, 2009, an email released by the State Department in September 2017 shows.

Long-time Clinton confidante Sid Blumenthal sent Clinton an email in July 2009 with the subject line: “Important. Not for circulation. You only. Sid.” The email began “CONFIDENTIAL… Re: Moscow Summit.” Abedin forwarded the email to her Yahoo address, potentially making it visible to hackers.

The email was deemed too sensitive to release to the public and was redacted before being published pursuant to the Judicial Watch lawsuit. The released copy says “Classified by DAS/ A/GIS, DoS on 10/30/2015 Class: Confidential.” The unredacted portion reads: “I have heard authoritatively from Bill Drozdiak, who is in Berlin. … We should expect that the Germans and Russians will now cut their own separate deals on energy, regional security, etc.”

The three email accounts Abedin used were abedinh@state.gov, huma@clintonemail.com, and humamabedin@yahoo.com. Though the emails released by the State Department partially redact personal email addresses, the Yahoo emails are displayed as humamabedin[redacted].

Clinton forwarded Abedin an email titled “Ambassadors” in March 2009 from Denis McDonough, who served as foreign policy adviser to former President Barack Obama’s campaign and later as White House chief of staff. The email was heavily redacted before being released to the public.

Stuart Delery, chief of staff to the deputy attorney general, sent a draft memo titled “PA/PLO Memo” in May 2009, seemingly referring to two Palestinian groups. The content was withheld from the public with large letters spelling “Page Denied.” Abedin forwarded it to her Yahoo account.

Abedin routed sensitive information through Yahoo multiple times, such as notes on a call with the U.N. secretary-general, according to messages released under the lawsuit.

Contemporaneous news reports documented the security weaknesses of Yahoo while Abedin continued to use it. Credentials to 450,000 Yahoo accounts had been posted online, a July 2012 CNN article reported. Five days later, Abedin forwarded sensitive information to her personal Yahoo email.

Abedin received an email “with the subject ‘Re: your yahoo acct.’ Abedin did not recall the email and provided that despite the content of the email she was not sure that her email account had ever been compromised,” on Aug. 16, 2010,  an FBI report says.

The FBI also asked her about sending other sensitive information to Yahoo. “Abedin was shown an email dated October 4, 2009 with the subject ‘Fwd: US interest in Pak Paper 10-04’ which Abedin received from [redacted] and then forwarded to her Yahoo email account. … At the time of the email, [redacted] worked for Richard Holbrooke who was the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP). Abedin was unaware of the classification of the document and stated that she did not make judgments on the classification of materials that she received,” the report said.

The U.S. charged Sushchin with hacking half a billion Yahoo accounts in March 2017, in one of the largest cyber-breaches in history, The Associated Press reported. Sushchin was an intelligence agent with Russia’s Federal Security Service—the successor to the KGB—and was also working as security director for Renaissance Capital, Russian media said.

“It is unknown to the grand jury whether [Renaissance] knew of his FSB affiliation,” the indictment says.

Renaissance Capital paid Bill Clinton $500,000 for a speech in 2010 that was attended by Russian officials and corporate leaders. The speech received a thank you note from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Renaissance Capital is owned by Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, who also owned the Brooklyn Nets basketball team. He unsuccessfully ran for Russian president against Putin in 2012.

Sushchin’s indictment says “the conspirators sought access to the Yahoo, Inc. email accounts of Russian journalists; Russian and U.S. government officials,” and others. Information about the accounts such as usernames and password challenge questions and answers were stolen for 500 million accounts, the indictment says. The indictment does not mention Abedin’s account.

A hacker called “Peace” claimed to be selling data from 200 million Yahoo users.

The user data also included people’s alternate email addresses, that were often work accounts tying a Yahoo user to an organization of interest. The hackers were able to generate “nonces” that allowed them to read emails “via external cookie minting” for some accounts.

The New York Times reported that in the 2013 hack, which affected all Yahoo accounts, “Digital thieves made off with names, birth dates, phone numbers and passwords of users that were encrypted with security that was easy to crack. The intruders also obtained the security questions and backup email addressed used to reset lost passwords—valuable information for someone trying to break into other accounts owned by the same user, and particularly useful to a hacker seeking to break into government computers around the world.”

Yahoo published a notification on Sept. 22, 2016, saying: “Yahoo has confirmed that a copy of certain user account information was stolen from the company’s network in late 2014 by what it believes is a state-sponsored actor.”

Hillary Clinton downplayed the risks of her email use days later, saying it was simply a matter of convenience.

“After a year-long investigation, there is no evidence that anyone hacked the server I was using and there is no evidence that anyone can point to at all, anyone who says otherwise has no basis, that any classified materials ended up in the wrong hands. I take classified materials very seriously and always have,” Clinton said on Oct. 9, 2016, at the second presidential debate.

Abedin’s use of Yahoo email is consistent with the determination by the FBI that Clinton associates’ emails were, in fact, compromised. “We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private email accounts of individuals with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her private account,” then-FBI Director James Comey said in 2016.

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Pentagon’s Decision to Keep Cluster Bombs Preserves Military Readiness, Lethality

The Pentagon drew sharp but unwarranted criticism earlier this month following its decision to indefinitely delay compliance with a ban on certain kinds of legacy cluster bombs.

Cluster bombs remain an important tool in the arsenal for U.S. forces, as they are effective at targeting light armor, massed infantry, and parked aircraft. We should not deny our forces the use of this capability until we have an adequate substitute.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions, an international treaty, prohibits the use or stockpiling of this weapon. Significantly, Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran have not ratified the treaty.

The George W. Bush administration, recognizing the continuing importance of cluster munitions to U.S. defense needs, also refused to sign the treaty, but set a deadline of 2018 for the U.S. to move to cluster munitions with a very high degree of reliability.

This policy sought to eliminate cluster bombs whose sub-munitions detonate less than 99 percent of the time. This reduces the risk that unexploded ordnance poses to noncombatants.

The Pentagon has cluster munitions that meet this degree of reliability?the Sensor Fuzed Weapon, for example?but its large stockpiles of legacy cluster munitions would be useless at the 2018 deadline as legacy munitions do not meet that standard.

Though the 2018 deadline was set 10 years ago, the Obama administration showed no urgency in developing adequate replacements.

Today, those replacements are still under development. The military therefore took the only viable course of action by delaying the ban and keeping this weapon, while continuing to work toward developing new munitions that pose no risk of leaving any unexploded ordnance.

Rather than recognize the military’s decision as a reasonable approach to maintaining readiness while it continues to upgrade its arsenal, media outlets and politicians have lambasted this decision as “unbelievable,” in the words of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

This issue has risen in prominence due to recent allegations that U.S.-made cluster bombs, bought by Saudi Arabia, caused significant civilian casualties in Yemen.

In April of this year, Sens. Feinstein and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act to bind the Defense Department to the 1 percent maximum failure rate for cluster bomb detonation. It is also intended to put the U.S. on the path toward compliance with the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

This is a short-sighted approach. The Feinstein-Leahy bill, like the Convention on Cluster Munitions, would impose a stringent standard for cluster munitions on the military and would leave the United States without cluster munitions until new munitions can be developed and fielded.

Furthermore, it ignores the important steps already taken by the U.S. government and military leadership to address humanitarian concerns about cluster bombs.

With respect to Yemen, the Obama administration halted U.S. supplies of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia, which faced international pressure for its targeting practices.

The reality is that even cluster munitions with miniscule failure rates can inflict civilian casualties if used improperly. Thus, even when the Pentagon has only cluster munitions with a 99 percent activation rate, there is still no assurance that the munitions will be used in accord with the laws of war.

Beyond that, most critiques of the Pentagon’s compromise policy ignore the fact that it now requires new purchases of cluster munitions to either have a less than 1 percent failure rate, or have self-destruct mechanisms that will be triggered after firing.

The Pentagon’s new policy has not, therefore, departed from the original goal of designing safer and more reliable cluster munitions. The policy rightly allows the U.S. military to maintain the capabilities necessary to counter masses of conventional forces should a future wartime scenario require it.

This is a prudent and defensible approach. The United States has used cluster munitions sparingly in recent decades, but they could be vital in a military situation involving large concentrations of conventional forces.

It would be reckless to destroy a valuable and well-established asset before its replacement is deployed.

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Cutting Through the Media’s Falsehoods About ‘Dreamers’

When members of Congress battled over the budget, some threatened to block funding unless Congress provided amnesty to illegal alien Dreamers who benefited from President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which President Donald Trump announced he is ending.

Conscientious members of Congress should not give in to this threat. Amnesty will encourage even more illegal immigration—just as the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act did.

That bill provided citizenship to 2.7 million illegal aliens. Yet by 1995, another 5.7 million illegal aliens were residing in the U.S. Many of them crossed the border to join their newly legalized friends and family. Others, no doubt, believed that since the U.S. provided amnesty once, it would do so again.

However Congress decides to deal with Dreamers, it should be based on the real demographics of the DACA populace, not the glamorized image typically presented by the media.

Watching television reports concerning Dreamers, one would think that the DACA program applied only to college-educated immigrants who were just a few years old when their parents brought them into the country illegally.

We are led to believe that most are so fully Americanized that they would now have trouble speaking their native language and are all but ignorant of their birth countries’ cultural norms. Thus, we are supposed to believe, returning them to their native lands would be a cruel hardship.

In fact, many DACA beneficiaries came here as teenagers. All were eligible for the program as long as they entered the U.S. before their 16th birthday. By that time, there is no doubt that they spoke the language of their native countries fluently and knew their culture intimately.

DACA had no requirement of English fluency, as evidenced by the application form that had a space to list the translator used to complete the form.

The Center for Immigration Studies estimates that “perhaps 24 percent of the DACA-eligible population fall into the functionally illiterate category and another 46 percent have only ‘basic’ English ability.”

Unfortunately, many Dreamers are poorly educated. Only 49 percent of DACA beneficiaries have a high school education, even though a majority are now adults. And while military service could also qualify an illegal alien for DACA, out of the current 690,000 DACA beneficiaries, only 900 are serving in the military.

The Obama administration did not check the background of each DACA beneficiary, despite a requirement that they have no felony convictions and pose no threat to national security. Only a few randomly selected DACA applicants were ever actually vetted.

This may explain why, by August this year, more than 2,100 DACA beneficiaries had had their eligibility pulled because of criminal convictions and gang affiliation.

Even if a random background investigation produced substantial evidence that an illegal alien might have committed multiple crimes, the alien would still be eligible for DACA if he wasn’t convicted.

Thus, it seems that a significant percentage of DACA beneficiaries have serious limitations in their education, work experience, and English fluency. What’s the likelihood that they’ll be able to function in American society without being substantial burdens to U.S. taxpayers?

Without changing the sponsorship rules, any congressional amnesty bill providing citizenship could significantly increase the number of illegal aliens who will benefit beyond the immediate DACA beneficiaries. Giving lawful status to Dreamers will allow them and their families to profit from illegal conduct.

History shows that providing amnesty will attract even more illegal immigration and won’t solve our enforcement problems. Congress shouldn’t even consider such relief unless and until we have a sustained period of concentrated enforcement that stems illegal entry and reduces the illegal alien population in the U.S.

Congress should instead concentrate on providing the resources needed to enforce our immigration laws and secure our border.

Originally published by the Washington Times.

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Invasive New Airport Screenings May Put Privacy at Risk

It’s a Christmas motif almost as ubiquitous as Christmas trees or sleigh bells—families and individuals hastily making their way through airports, balancing presents, bags, and children, excited to make their way home to spend Christmas with their loved ones.

They’re concerned with their flight status, the weather in their destination, their luggage making it to the destination, or the likelihood they will get selected for a random TSA pat-down and any other number of travel-related factors.

But in 2018, there may be another worry to add to that already long list of travel woes.

At some point next year, the Department Homeland Security is hoping to implement mandatory facial scans for all people—American citizens included—who are flying internationally. In fact, they’ve already rolled out this invasive practice in a handful of airports this holiday season.

This new invasion of Americans’ privacy caught the attention of Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., whose own Logan International Airport was one of the airports selected for the rollout. We wrote a letter together to get more information from Homeland Security about this program.

There are a number of issues with this program, including that Homeland Security hasn’t instituted a way to let travelers know that they will be subjected to this scan before they fly.

But more importantly there is no evidence to show that this facial scan actually works. Homeland Security is hoping to use this technology accurately 96 percent of the time. But even at that rate, 1 of 25 travelers would still be misidentified and improperly flagged by Homeland Security.

Additional evidence shows gender and ethnicity increase the likelihood of being improperly flagged.

But perhaps the biggest concern is how the government will use this accumulated data and whether or not Homeland Security is even allowed to collect it in the first place.

As of now, the information is supposedly only shared with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to check for fraud, and then deleted from the Homeland Security database after 14 days.

But in our examination of the program, we have not seen satisfactory safeguards that protect this information from being accessed by third-party groups or that show these protocols are actually being followed.

The Department of Homeland Security is ushering in this program in an attempt to fulfill a congressional mandate that says a biometric exit program needs to be in place for international travelers. However, they have gone beyond this directive as the mandate passed by Congress did not allow for facial scans to be used on American citizens.

For the Department of Homeland Security to do this stands in direct conflict with the Constitution and its Fourth Amendment protection of privacy.

Until the Department of Homeland Security is willing to address these problems and provide myself, Markey, and Congress sufficient evidence to prove the program falls within the constraints of its congressional mandate, Homeland Security should provide American citizens with a timely Christmas present—protecting their rights by not only stopping this program’s expansion, but stopping it’s use entirely.

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What I Learned From a Wartime Christmas Eve

KYIV, Ukraine—The first time I ever saw a war, it was on Christmas Eve in 2009. At the time, I was a green Air Force special operations pilot on my first deployment to Afghanistan.

I had already been in country for a few weeks, flying mostly day missions. Easy stuff, like surveillance and reconnaissance sorties, which typically meant orbiting ad infinitum over a target while on autopilot.

A U.S. Air Force A-10 “Warthog” pilot during an exercise in Estonia. (Photos: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)

I’d usually bring an energy drink in the boot pocket of my tan flight suit as a pick-me-up before landing. During the missions, which lasted for hours, I’d munch on sandwiches I’d picked up from the chow hall before takeoff.

Truly, up to that point, the flying I had done over Afghanistan wasn’t much different than training missions back at Hurlburt Field, Florida, where I was stationed at the time. Except for the mountains, of course, and the ever-present, nebulous idea that the enemy was down in the ether of those patchwork brown and tan fields and stair-stepped plots of vertiginous earth.

Aboard a U.S. helicopter in Afghanistan.

Also, the body armor vest and loaded pistol on my chest and the M-4 carbine stashed behind my seat reminded me in no uncertain terms that this was something more serious than a training mission.

Still, I hadn’t seen the war yet. Not really. I had to tell myself that it was down there. I had no other evidence of it.

As I said, my first true combat mission was on Christmas Eve. I had been broken in with the easy missions, and for this first combat operation I was paired with an older, more experienced pilot as my aircraft commander. For the sake of discretion, I’m not going to publish his name, since he’s still on active duty.

But I will say that he had been an A-10 “Warthog” attack pilot before joining Air Force Special Operations Command, and he knew a lot about war.

The author with his mother during his freshman year at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

I remember as we stepped to the aircraft at Bagram Air Base at dusk with the distant Hindu Kush mountains painted purple in the dim light of the setting sun, the aircraft commander looked back to me and smiled.

“Awesome, isn’t it?” he said.

It was, I said.

Merry Christmas

That night, we would provide overwatch for a special operations team that was going to helicopter in and assault a compound where a Taliban leader was supposedly holed up. Capture or kill. That was the mission.

Soon, it was night and we were watching the target compound through our high-tech sensors.  We radioed what we were supposed to say, and did other things in the meantime.

Many young U.S. soldiers have grown up after Sept. 11, 2001.

All of the sudden, we heard the dreaded acronym, “TIC,” on the radio.

Troops in contact.

An American ground unit was taking fire miles away from where we were. The voice of the JTAC (the soldier who directs combat aircraft actions from the battlefield) down in the firefight came through the radio with a lot of background noise.

He spoke in short bursts in between his measured, heavy breathing. Nevertheless, I remember feeling impressed by how calm his voice seemed, and how precisely he pronounced his words.

Other aircraft were already overhead, and an airstrike had been authorized.

U.S. warplanes launch from the flight deck of the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier to support the air war against the Islamic State terror group.

 

The ridgeline where the battle was taking place was off to our right, and we were on the portion of our orbit that brought us closest to that spot when we heard the radio call from an American fighter jet.

The bomb had just been released.

The aircraft commander told me in which direction to look out my side window. At his suggestion, I flipped up my night-vision goggles to stare into the black night with my naked eyes, straining to make out the murky silhouettes of the mountains below.

Then, a flash and a glowing orange orb rose from the earth like a miniature sunrise.

I won’t pretend to remember exactly what was said on the radio at that instant, but it was something to the effect of: “The enemies are dead, the Americans are OK.”

I do remember one remark, however. I’ll never forget it.

“Merry Christmas,” someone said.

Later on that night, after a handful of Taliban militants escaped our target compound—“squirters,” as we called them—I helped the special operations team track them down. No Americans were wounded or killed on the mission.

The author during U.S. Air Force pilot training in 2007.

Markers

After returning to base, I relaxed in my bunk and wrote in my journal. I reflected on that night, reeling with its significance after all the years of training it had taken to be there in Afghanistan as a U.S. military pilot flying combat missions.

That night was the first time I had ever seen a weapon fired in anger. It was also the first time I had ever watched people die.

Admittedly, it had been a tepid first sip of the combat experience. My life had never been in danger, and I had only seen war from afar, listening on the radio as some of the most lethal warriors in human history—American fighter pilots and special operations troops—killed their enemies.

Across Eastern Europe, American military forces are deployed as a deterrence against Russian military aggression.

Still, I had contributed, albeit microscopically, to the war effort. More importantly, I had been useful.

Every Christmas Eve thereafter, I’ve thought about that night in Afghanistan. Especially as my wartime experiences, both as a pilot and a war correspondent, have accumulated over the years, becoming a recurrent constant in my life.

Holidays, after all, are perennial markers of time’s passage through which we can take stock of how little or how much life has changed each intervening year.

The U.S. military has been engaged in nonstop combat operations since 2001.

For that reason, this Christmas it doesn’t escape me that U.S. troops are still deployed in Afghanistan, as well as myriad other combat zones around the world.

U.S. troops are also conducting training missions in places like Eastern Europe and South Korea, providing a valuable deterrent against military aggression from countries like Russia and North Korea.

For U.S. military personnel, such deployments are no longer an interruption of normal life, but a predictable part of it. A recurrent marker of the passage of time as perpetual as the holidays are.

Active-duty U.S. military troops of my generation have spent their adult lives rotating between combat zone deployments. For their part, many of the younger troops can’t remember a world before Sept. 11, 2001.

Forever War

The last time the United States celebrated a true peacetime Christmas was the year 2000.

At that time, I was halfway through my freshman year at the U.S. Air Force Academy, on leave for the holidays in my hometown of Sarasota, Florida.

I remember how proud I was when I stepped off the airplane in my uniform and saw my family waiting for me at the end of the jet bridge, as you could still do in those days.

The author prior to a mission in Afghanistan as a U.S. Air Force special operations pilot.

I was just 18 years old and slowly adjusting to military life. Yet, to be fair, going to war was never part of the picture. For me, like many of us in the military just prior to 9/11, I seriously wondered whether my country would ever go to war again.

Nine months later we knew for certain that we would.

And every year after that, we’ve had troops deployed in war zones for the holidays.

The last time the United States celebrated a true peacetime Christmas was the year 2000.

These days, I have all the respect in the world for the young American men and women who volunteer for military service. They know exactly what they’re getting into.

I also wonder, as we near the 17th Christmas after Sept. 11, 2001, if America will ever celebrate another peacetime Christmas in my lifetime.

It’s not called the forever war for nothing. But at some point, every individual soldier stops going to war, even if it’s still there.

At some point, each U.S. soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine will privately wonder—Have I done enough?

When is it right to go on living, even while the wars go on and on?

U.S. Army soldiers on a training exercise in Estonia in 2015.

A Reason to Celebrate

People often ask me about the difficulties of writing about war. They want to know if it’s hard to remain upbeat after seeing so many terrible things.

Truthfully, the answer is yes, sometimes it’s tough. It’s hard to care about the normal, trivial problems of life after witnessing how much people suffer in war.

Sometimes, when the holidays roll around, and the wars go on and on, I wonder what’s worth celebrating.

Sailors line up for a meal aboard the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier.

But I also remember something else I’ve learned over the years from my wartime experiences. War brings out the most beautiful parts of humanity, too. In war, you see instances of total selflessness, of men and women willing to sacrifice everything for invisible ideas like freedom and justice, or to protect their families and their comrades. Sometimes, to protect people they’ve never even met.

Perhaps, in the end, war is as perennial as any holiday and always will be.

But so too are other things, like hope, love, and the unending willingness of good people to stand up against evil.

This Christmas, like any other, that’s something to celebrate.

The post What I Learned From a Wartime Christmas Eve appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Trump Approves US Lethal Weapons Sales to Ukraine, Angering Moscow

KYIV, Ukraine—U.S. President Donald Trump has approved the sale of commercial lethal weapons to Ukraine, a pivotal decision that comes amid an escalation of Russia’s ongoing proxy war in the country’s embattled eastern Donbas region.

Trump has reportedly approved a $41.5 million deal for Tennessee-based Barrett Firearms Manufacturing to sell Model M107A1 sniper rifles, ammunition, and accessories to Ukraine.

For years, Ukraine has requested U.S. lethal weapons to defend against Russian aggression. News of the U.S. weapons deal was therefore celebrated as a sign of solidarity and, hopefully, a bellwether for more robust American military support in the future.

“The Ukrainian people congratulate President Trump’s decision to sell sniper systems to our army. We hope this is the first step and will follow other, more weighty ones,” said Timur Kobzar, a Ukrainian volunteer who has ferried supplies out to soldiers on the front lines since the war began.

Ukrainian sniper Volodymyr Pavlovich on the front lines in Pisky. (Photos: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)

“This is not just a good solution, this is a beautiful, long-awaited decision for Ukraine,” Kobzar told The Daily Signal. “When you have a strong friend behind you, you have more chances to defeat the enemy. And this is exactly the case.”

The reaction from Moscow to the U.S.-Ukraine rifle deal was swift and pointed. On Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called it a “dead-end technique, which would unleash bloodshed again,” the Russian government-owned news site TASS reported.

Some say the weapons deal, which is limited to commercial sales of small arms and light weapons, could be the opening salvo of a full-blown diplomatic about-face by the Trump White House, which would ultimately reverse the Obama administration’s longtime refusal to arm Ukraine.

Others, however, see the move as a diplomatic shot across the Kremlin’s bow by the Trump administration intended to pressure Moscow to de-escalate its ongoing proxy war in Ukraine, while simultaneously reassuring Kyiv about the longevity of U.S. support.

“In addition to practical applications of these weapons there is also an important symbolism attached to this decision,” Luke Coffey, director of The Heritage Foundation’s Foreign Policy Center, told The Daily Signal. “It sends the right message to friend and foe that the U.S. is serious on trans-Atlantic security and that President Trump doesn’t dither in these tough decisions.”

Useful and Symbolic

After four years of constant combat, about 60,000 Ukrainian troops remain engaged in a static, trench warfare conflict against a combined force of about 35,000 pro-Russian separatists, foreign mercenaries, and Russian regulars.

The war is mostly fought at a distance using indirect fire weapons like artillery, rockets, and mortars. Snipers also frequently engage targets across no man’s land, which can vary in width from a few kilometers in some places, to other spots where the two sides are so close they can shout insults to one another.

While the Kremlin denies its hand in the war and Ukrainian officials officially refer to the conflict as an “anti-terror operation,” the two erstwhile allies have been locked in a de facto state of war since early 2014.

President Donald Trump has approved the commercial sale of U.S.-made sniper rifles to Ukraine.

The conflict is moderated in scale and intensity, and locked geographically, by the terms of the Minsk II cease-fire. Heavy weapons above a certain caliber are banned within an agreed-upon buffer zone on either side of the front lines.

Nevertheless, the fighting goes on. And on average, one Ukrainian soldier still dies every three days.

The Barrett M107A1 is a newly unveiled, .50-caliber extreme-range sniper rifle developed with asymmetric warfare in mind, integrating battlefield lessons learned from U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Based on U.S. Army testing, the rifle is capable of penetrating up to 1.18 inches of steel plate from 2,000 meters.

Front-line Ukrainian soldiers say the M107A1 will be well suited for the kinds of long-distance battles they currently face in the Donbas.

“It will definitely help us because most engagements are more than 500 meters from trench to trench, it even goes up to 2 kilometers,” said Anton Kolomoets, a 22-year-old soldier in the Ukrainian National Guard Azov Regiment, currently deployed outside the city of Mariupol at the southern end of the front lines.

Kolomoets told The Daily Signal that soldiers in his unit modify Soviet-era DShK machine guns with accessories bought off the internet—like advanced scopes, bipods, and new stocks—to fill the role of advanced, long-distance sniper rifles like the M107A1.

“This stuff is not as accurate as we need,” Kolomoets said of the modified Soviet weapons.

Volodymyr Pavlovich, a 31-year-old former Ukrainian sniper who served with the Ukrainian army’s 93rd Mechanized Brigade in the front-line town of Pisky, said he used a 1969 Soviet Dragunov sniper rifle in combat.

Ukrainian sniper Volodymyr Pavlovich on patrol in eastern Ukraine.

“It allowed me to work confidently up to 800 meters under excellent meteorological conditions,” Pavlovich told The Daily Signal. “In some cases, this old rifle did just a miracle.”

For his part, Pavlovich welcomed Trump’s approval of M107A1 sales to Ukraine, adding that if Ukrainian soldiers can actually use it in combat (he worried the weapons might come with U.S.-imposed restrictions against front-line use in the Donbas), the American sniper rifle would “surely save many lives of Ukrainian soldiers.”

“And the very fact that the United States officially supports the Ukrainian army strongly demoralizes Russian soldiers,” Pavlovich added.

Beyond its battlefield utility, the U.S. weapons deal is a morale booster for Ukrainian troops as they endure their fourth consecutive winter at war against Russia and its separatist proxies.

“Of course this is a good decision,” Dmitry Dybus, a 23-year-old active-duty Ukrainian army soldier currently deployed to the eastern war zone, told The Daily Signal in an email, referring to the U.S. weapons deal.

“It will be a small, but really important step to re-arming the armed forces of Ukraine,” Dybus said. “And of course, it will be nice to stand in defense of the entire civilized world side by side with [the United States].”

Baby Steps

In a Wednesday opinion piece for The Washington Post, Josh Rogin, a columnist for that paper, called the Trump administration’s authorization to sell Ukraine the M107A1 “the first ever U.S. commercial sale of lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine,” adding that it was “a clear break from the de facto U.S. ban on arms sales that dates back to the Obama administration.”

However, the Texas-based weapons manufacturer AirTronic USA has been selling and shipping precision shoulder-fired rocket launchers, or PSRLs, to Ukraine since 2016, according to news reports.

In a Nov. 22 interview with Voice of America’s Ukraine service news site, Richard Vandiver, president and chief operating officer of AirTronic USA, said his company had acquired a DDTC DSP-5 export license from the U.S. Department of State to sell and ship its weapons to Ukraine.

Shrapnel damage in eastern Ukraine.

“We started to deliver our goods to Ukraine last year, we continue to deliver to this day,” Vandiver told Voice of America.

The AirTronic PSRL is an analogue of the Soviet RPG-7, a rocket-propelled grenade, with a range of about 1,000 meters.

Both the AirTronic PSRL and the Barrett M107A1 rifle require government approval to be sold abroad.

Canada also recently announced it will issue licenses to its defense contractors to sell weapons to Ukraine.

Like the Canadian decision, the one announced by the U.S. this week is not a direct shipment of weapons to Ukraine from the U.S. government. Rather, it is the issuance of a State Department license to a U.S. commercial manufacturer to sell weapons to Ukraine.

Cold Winter, Hot War

So far, more than 10,300 Ukrainians have died in the conflict, including more than 2,500 civilians. The war—Europe’s only ongoing one—has also displaced about 1.7 million people.

On Monday, combined Russian-separatist forces unleashed a Grad rocket attack on the Ukrainian-controlled village of Novoluhanske in the Donbas, where more than 3,700 people live, including more than 500 children.

The Russian rockets damaged about 50 buildings, including a school and a kindergarten.

“At least 40 rockets hit the village’s residential area, wounding eight civilians, including six senior women and a 6-year-old child,” Col. Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, a Ukrainian Ministry of Defense spokesman, told reporters Tuesday in Kyiv.

The war in Ukraine has become a long-range conflict, in which soldiers hardly ever see their enemies.

“A lot of people think that this has somehow turned into a sleepy, frozen conflict and it’s stable, and now we have … a cease-fire. It’s a problem but it’s not a crisis,” Kurt Volker, the U.S. special envoy for the Ukraine conflict, said Wednesday in Washington, following the Novoluhanske rocket attack.

“That’s completely wrong,” Volker said. “It is a crisis. This has been the most violent year, 2017, and frankly, last night was one of the most violent nights, certainly since February, and possibly this year.”

The Novoluhanske attack also damaged power lines and a gas pipeline, spurring a temporary heating and electricity outage—a potentially lethal proposition as Ukraine’s harsh continental winter sets in, routinely dipping temperatures double digits below zero Celsius.

A War by Any Other Name

The Novoluhanske attack is part of an overall escalation of the conflict.

International monitors in Ukraine reported a 35 percent increase in cease-fire violations the week of Dec. 11 to 17.

This latest spike in the war is part of a cyclical pattern of escalation and de-escalation that the Kremlin has maintained for years as a diplomatic hedge to keep Ukraine—a former Soviet vassal of Moscow’s—from integrating too quickly and deeply with the West.

Apart from the increased violence, this week Russian officials pulled out from a key negotiating format with Ukraine intended to implement the cease-fire called the Joint Center for Control and Coordination, or JCCC.

“I can emphasize that the danger of the conflict’s escalation is, unfortunately, increasing,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Wednesday, according to a statement published to his administration’s website.

Rhetoric from Washington has noticeably stepped up in recent weeks as the war has escalated, calling out the Kremlin for its role in the conflict. For its part, the Kremlin continues to deny its role in the war.

After almost four years of war, U.S. weapons would be a morale booster for Ukrainian soldiers.

U.S. officials say the peace process is stuck in purgatory so long as Russian officials are not willing to admit, privately or publicly, that their troops and weapons are in Ukraine.

“Russia withdrew its officers from JCCC—a ceasefire implementation tool—right before a massive escalation in ceasefire violations. Ukraine just suffered some of the worst fighting since February, 2017,” Volker wrote Tuesday on Twitter.

“Decision for peace lies with Russia,” Volker added in the tweet.

Some see Trump’s approval of commercial sniper rifle sales to Ukraine as part of a measured, long-term pushback against Moscow for its continued stonewalling on a workable peace deal in Ukraine.

“There is an unrecognized dimension to Trump’s foreign policy in that he seems more than willing to play the long game on some foreign policy challenges,” James Carafano, vice president for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal.

“I think this decision signals he is willing to stick with Ukraine for the long-term—not on an incremental or escalatory fashion, but with sustained commitment and presence over time,” Carafano said. “In that respect, perhaps this is a game-changer, and is certainly a marked, and welcome, change from previous administrations.”

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