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US approves anti-tank missiles sale to Ukraine amid phone call scandal

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A US soldier fires a Javelin anti-tank missile at a live fire exercise during Saber Guardian 2019 near Várpalota, Hungary, on June 5, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

The US State Department has approved the sale of anti-tank missiles to Ukraine in a move which is likely to anger Russia. 

The State Department approved on Thursday the possible military sale to Ukraine of 150 Javelin anti-tank missiles and two additional missile launchers, worth approximately $39.2 million.

“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by improving the security of Ukraine,” it said in a release.

“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,” it added.

The Pentagon also notified Congress of the possible sale on Thursday.

Russia's Foreign Ministry, however, said the missile sale will not help Ukraine's defense capabilities, but will dent the country's budget.

"What Ukraine really needs today is a settlement of the internal Ukrainian conflict, an end to the crisis in many fields, a better situation in the economy and struggle against corruption, the harmonization of internal political processes and the search for identity," said the ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova.

Russia has consistently warned the US against providing Ukraine with weapons over concerns of escalation of the conflict in the east, which has so far claimed the lives of some 13,000 people since 2014.

The armed confrontation began when a wave of protests in Ukraine overthrew a democratically-elected government and replaced it with a pro-West administration.

Ukraine ordered the purchase of the weapons a couple of weeks before a controversial phone call between President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his US counterpart Donald Trump. 

The sale was reportedly discussed in July, but the conversation is now threatening to bog down the Trump administration.

Trump stands accused of asking Zelensky eight times during the phone call to work with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani to investigate government corruption involving the former United States vice president and current front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, Joe Biden, and his son.

The president and his administration have been accused by the Democrats of blocking investigation into the case, but Trump said in a Tweet on Tuesday that what “is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP.”

Meanwhile, in a five-page memorandum of the call that was released last week, Zelensky said his country was “almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.”

Trump in response asked for “a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it.”

Trump reportedly asked Zelensky if he could “look into” unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing against Biden and his son Hunter, who previously had a seat on the board of a Ukrainian natural-gas company.

The recent sale is separate from the $250 million in US military aid to Ukraine that was authorized months earlier by Congress.

The aid was withheld by Trump without a clear explanation until almost two months after his call with Zelensky.

Democrats on Friday demanded answers on what prompted the president to place a hold on the military aid.

The package of weapons is now at the center of the impeachment inquiry into whether Trump withheld the money and weapons in a bid to gain political advantage over Biden this summer.

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