BERLIN — There's no expectation Ukraine could defeat Russia militarily if given American weapons, but they could add "muscle" to diplomatic efforts, the commander of U.S. Army Europe said Tuesday.
While emphasizing the U.S. still seeks a diplomatic solution to the crisis, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said in Berlin that helping Ukraine with weapons would increase the stakes for Russian President Vladimir Putin at home.
"When mothers start seeing sons come home dead, when that price goes up, then that domestic support begins to shrink," he said.
The Obama administration is still considering whether to provide lethal, defensive weapons to Ukraine amid concerns that such a move might encourage Russia to further escalate its involvement there.
Ukraine and the West accuse Moscow of helping the rebels in eastern Ukraine with troops and weapons; accusations Moscow denies.
Hodges did not specify what weapons could be offered, but said that what Ukraine wants "is intelligence, counter fire capability and something that can stop a Russian tank."
"If you don't have something that gives muscle to the diplomacy, to the economic aspect, then it's not going to be as effective," he said.
The Russia-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine flared up in April following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.
Hodges estimated that Russia now has 29,000 troops in Crimea and 12,000 in eastern Ukraine.
For the time being, he said separate American plans to train three Ukrainian battalions had been put on hold to see if a cease-fire deal forged last month in the Belarusian capital Minsk will be fully implemented.
As part of a new NATO rapid reaction force in response to Russian actions in Ukraine, he said the U.S. had decided to bring a brigade of armored vehicles back to Europe consisting of some 220 tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles.
He said he was recommending they be pre-positioned in locations in the Baltics, eastern Europe and Germany so that they would be available for quick use if needed. That recommendation still needs approval.