The Obama administration has proposed a 28% spending cut for a Pentagon program that supports modernizing the military of Ukraine and other former Soviet Union republics, Pentagon budget records show, a move that could endanger efforts to boost Ukraine's armed forces as they face threats from Russia.
The proposed cuts, which are contained in a detailed budget plan posted online this week, come over the objections of officials with the U.S. European Command, who argue they will hurt U.S. attempts to build armed forces in nations formerly beholden to Russia.
Spending on the Warsaw Initiative Fund is set to drop from $34 million in the current fiscal year to $24.4 million in the 2015 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.
Neither Pentagon nor White House officials would comment on the proposed spending cut. The White House National Security Council referred all questions to the Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget, which also did not respond.
The proposed spending cut comes as "the demand for funding to meet important U.S./NATO objectives continues to grow," said the budget plan from the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which oversees the Warsaw Initiative. Maintaining the current spending level is important, officials from the U.S. European Command argued, because the initiative is an important tool "to encourage defense reform and promote NATO interoperability and integration, especially among NATO aspirants."
"The implications of this are not good," said Stephen Blank, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. "The only thing that the world respects is action, not talk, so if you are not going to fund these projects then no one will take you seriously."
European Command officials, the budget document shows, said money from the initiative pays for half of their military-to-military work in the Balkans, South Caucasus and Eurasia, which includes Ukraine, and failing to maintain the current spending levels "will weaken their ability to complete their country cooperation plans' goals and objectives, and will also reduce their overall engagement with the countries" involved in the Partnership for Peace.
The Partnership for Peace is a NATO program aimed at building the armed forces of potential NATO members and is supported by the Warsaw Initiative spending. Ukraine is not a NATO member, and its prime minister said this week it would not seek to join.
A 2009 study by the RAND Corp. for the Pentagon said the top three roles for the initiative were creating a nation's defense policy and management, human resources and the democratic control of a nation's armed forces. Ukraine's participation in the program has created strong relationships with the U.S. military, which were influential in keeping the Ukrainian army from getting involved in last month's protests against the country's former president, Viktor Yanukovych, who later fled to Russia.
Some exercises with Ukraine may have to be canceled because of the rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine, which have led to Russia seizing control of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, the document shows.
"Due to the dire security situation in country, prospects of continuing to execute (2014) events in Ukraine remain unknown at the time this document was prepared," the budget proposal says. "Furthermore, a re-evaluation of all security cooperation activities with Ukraine may need to occur in light of domestic political events."
NATO officials said this week they would step up their coordination with Ukraine. Two military exercises scheduled for the summer in and around Ukraine, Rapid Trident and Sea Breeze, are still set to occur, Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said. She would not speculate on what would happen with future exercises beyond this summer.
Another NATO exercise, Saber Guardian, is set to start Friday and include a Ukrainian contingent among the 700 troops from 12 countries. The exercise, which will take place in eastern Bulgaria, will last until April 4.
Contributing: Kendall Breitman