The United States completed its shipment of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine on Monday, finalizing a sale that was reluctantly approved by President Donald Trump in November. The deal was widely reported as a rebuke to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who annexed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014. “This decision … reflects our country’s longstanding commitment to Ukraine in the face of ongoing Russian aggression,” Republican Senator Bob Corker said late last year.
But the terms of the arrangement show it may be more bark than bite. The weapons “have been delivered to a secure facility in Ukraine, not on the line of conflict,” Kurt Volker, the U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine, told me. He did not elaborate further, but The Wall Street Journal reported in January that the weapons would be stored in training centers in western Ukraine that will be monitored by American soldiers.
Trump has said repeatedly that “no one is tougher on Russia” than him. But his critics have accused him of challenging Putin only superficially. Shortly after the Trump administration expelled 60 Russian diplomats in March—48 of whom were actually intelligence officers, according to a State Department spokesperson—the State Department acknowledged that the Kremlin would be allowed to refill the vacated positions. The Treasury Department recently sanctioned more than three dozen Russian oligarchs, officials, and entities who “profit” from Russia’s “malign activity” and “corrupt system.” But many of the sanctioned oligarchs had four months’ notice to move their money, thanks to a list of Russia’s wealthiest individuals released by the Treasury in January. That money might already be back in Russia. “As they say, ‘a barking dog cannot hinder a caravan’s journey,’” Putin told Russia’s TASS news agency at the time. He mocked his own absence from the list. When UN Ambassador Nikki Haley announced new sanctions against Russia over its support for embattled Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, she was contradicted by the White House hours later.