Ukrainians slam 'unreliable' Germany as it blocks Estonia from sending arms to Kyiv

·5-min read
Russian servicemen preparing military vehicles to unload from a troop train for the joint drills in Belarus - AFP
Russian servicemen preparing military vehicles to unload from a troop train for the joint drills in Belarus - AFP

Germany is blocking Nato ally Estonia from supplying arms to Ukraine, as Washington endorsed sending Baltic shipments of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Kyiv to defend against Russia.

It came as the first tranche of a $200m (£145m) US security package for Ukraine arrived in the country, which faces the threat of invasion by at least 100,000 Russian troops amassed at its borders.

In contrast with Washington and London, Germany refused permission for Estonia's government to send Soviet-era D-30 howitzers into Ukraine, relying on a veto that was a condition of the weapons' export from Germany.

The rejection by Berlin has exasperated Ukrainian ministers amid concerns that Germany's reluctance to provide arms could undermine Nato efforts to protect the country from Russian invasion.

On Saturday, Dmytro Kuleba, the Ukrainian foreign minister, accused Berlin of "encouraging Vladimir Putin," who denies that he plans to invade Ukraine.

Mr Kuleba added that German statements "about the impossibility of supplying defence weapons to Ukraine" did not match "the current security situation," and warned that Western unity in the face of Moscow was "more important than ever."

Oleksii Reznikov, the Ukrainian defence minister, admitted that Germany "have a lot of hesitation to deliver [arms] to us” and said he hoped it would reverse its position.

Christine Lambrecht, the German defence minister, said on Saturday that Berlin would send a field hospital to Ukraine but reiterated their refusal of Ukrainian requests for weapons.

"Weapons deliveries would not be helpful at the moment - that is the consensus within the government," Ms Lambrecht said.

Germany has a longstanding policy of banning weapons exports to conflict zones because of concerns over World War Two and Nazi atrocities.

Under Angela Merkel, Germany prevented the delivery of rifles from the US and anti-drone systems from Lithuania to Ukraine last year.

Because the weapons were purchased via a Nato agency, all members of the alliance had an effective veto.

Berlin later dropped its objection to delivery of the Lithuanian anti-drone system but not the American rifles.

It was German opposition that prompted Ukraine to switch from sourcing arms via Nato to bilateral deals with countries like Britain and Estonia.

Last week RAF planes carrying weapons to Ukraine took a circuitous route that avoided flying over Germany. The Ministry of Defence said it had not requested permission to enter German airspace and denied reports the route had anything to do with German policy.

Russia insists it has no plans to invade Ukraine but has imposed a series of security demands, including a ban on Ukraine joining Nato, in exchange for de-escalation.

Ukraine, meanwhile, says it is grateful for the UK's swift provision of arms and troops which arrived earlier this week.

One senior MP in Ukraine described British support as "the most effective and most-well timed," adding that he was disappointed by Germany's decision to block arms deliveries.

Serhii Rakhmanin, a member of the Ukrainian parliament's defence committee, told the Sunday Telegraph: "We are very grateful. Personally I think that the military supply from the UK looks like the most effective one and the most well-timed."

He added: "For me personally, sadly, the German position was sorrowful. As we know Germany tells us it is a reliable partner, but Germany does not act like this."

Mr Rakhmanin said Ukraine would also benefit from any further British arms shipments, such as "anti-aircraft systems and anti-aircraft missiles, radio location systems, electronic warfare and heavy weapons."

Andriy Zagorodnyuk, an Oxford-educated former defence minister of Ukraine, said the country may have to resort to guerilla-style tactics if Russia invades, and this meant fast deliveries of light weaponry was a crucial gesture by Western allies.

"It's exactly what we need, the UK was very quick to move," he said, referring to its provision of 2,000 anti-tank missile launchers and training from the British Army's Ranger Regiment.

"We need an asymmetric answer, not trying to match the number of tanks but a different approach - a tactic similar to guerilla warfare, but in our case based on regular [armed] forces working in smaller groups," he said.

Talks between Washington and Moscow on the Ukraine crisis failed to find an agreement this week, but fresh talks between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany are due to take place in Paris on Tuesday.

The talks, which are being held in the four-way Normandy format, hope to end the longstanding conflict in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Ukrainian soldiers with the 56th Brigade, in a trench on the front line - Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images
Ukrainian soldiers with the 56th Brigade, in a trench on the front line - Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Russia's chief negotiator, Dmitry Kozak, will take part in the talks from the Russian side, a source in Moscow said on Saturday.

The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are sending US-made anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, which US secretary of state Antony Blinken said reflected "longstanding support to Ukraine".

"I expedited and authorised and we fully endorse transfers of defensive equipment [that] Nato Allies Estonia Latvia Lithuania are providing to Ukraine to strengthen its ability to defend itself against Russia's unprovoked and irresponsible aggression," Mr Blinken said on Twitter.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin, earlier this week described Western arms supplies to Ukraine as extremely dangerous and said they "do nothing to reduce tensions."

On the streets of Kyiv, where some hardy Ukrainians trudge through the icy streets without a hat or gloves, the mood was one of grim resolve towards the Russian threat. There were also mixed feelings as to whether Nato states and the European Union would come to Ukraine's aid in the worst case scenario.

"This war is not something that both sides will benefit from," said Rostislav, a 23-year-old post office worker. "The EU has helped us before, but I don't know if it's something that's going to happen in the future, it's something those countries have to decide."

Lesya Kohan, a 39-year-old flower vendor, said she was so weary of grim reports about Russia that she has stopped following the news and instead gets updates from other traders.

"I am pretty sure they [Western allies] will help, because we are all people. But I hope that nothing will happen," she said.