Baltic countries to send anti-tank missiles to Ukraine

Three Baltic countries are sending anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine as a group of European countries try to help Kyiv defend itself better against potential Russian aggression.

The move, which follows a British dispatch this week of anti-tank weapons to Kyiv, highlights a split among European powers about whether to arm Ukraine and risk provoking Moscow.

Estonia was providing Ukraine with Javelin anti-tank weapons while Latvia and Lithuania were sending Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and other equipment including thermal sights after receiving permission from the US, the three countries’ defence ministers said on Friday.

“Let’s face it: the war in Ukraine is ongoing and it is important to support Ukraine in every way we can so that they can resist the aggressor,” Kalle Laanet, Estonia’s defence minister, said.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for Russian president Vladimir Putin, said this week that western arms supplies to Ukraine were “extremely dangerous and do nothing to reduce tensions”.

There is not a consensus among European countries over sending arms to Ukraine. Germany, notably, is refusing to do so, leaving the UK and the three Baltic countries to lead the way with pledges of equipment.

Olaf Scholz, Germany’s chancellor, reiterated on Friday that his country’s government “has a very clear position” on arms exports. “That position is . . . that we have not supported the export of lethal weapons out of Germany,” he told reporters, adding this was a stance that had been held by successive governments for years.

Kyiv last month complained about Berlin blocking the supply of arms through Nato’s procurement agency.

Britain this week flew some 2,000 short-range anti-tank missiles to Kyiv and is providing 30 specialist troops to train Ukrainian forces how to use them. The Czech government is proposing to send artillery shells.

A state department spokesperson confirmed that Washington had authorised “third party transfers” from US allies including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to “provide US origin equipment from their inventories for use by Ukraine”. The spokesperson added that the US was also expediting up to $60m in “lethal and non-lethal equipment” from the Pentagon’s own stocks and had authorised up to $200m in funds to provide emergency support for Ukraine’s defence.

Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, said on Friday that Washington had in the past year provided $650m of security assistance to Ukraine. “We’re continuing to provide that assistance. We have additional deliveries that are scheduled in the coming weeks,” he said.

Since 2014, Washington has provided drones, Javelin anti-tank missiles and armoured vehicles. It has also approved sales of patrol boats, including weapons and electronic systems. The new equipment sent is expected to include anti-tank missiles, ammunition and other equipment.

Moscow was enraged last year when Ukrainian forces used a Turkish-supplied Bayraktar drone to strike against a artillery position of Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region.

Members of the ‘Democratic Axe’ political party take part in a rally in front of the British embassy in Kyiv to thank Britain for supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons
Members of the ‘Democratic Axe’ political party take part in a rally in front of the British embassy in Kyiv to thank Britain for supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons © REUTERS

Ukraine’s defence ministry said on Thursday it was receiving “unprecedented” military assistance from its allies in the face of pressure from Moscow.

Analysts have warned that the kind of weaponry provided in recent weeks would be unlikely to make a decisive difference in a full-scale war with Russia, particularly given Russia air superiority and long-range missiles. Kyiv has previously appealed for more sophisticated kit, including air defence, electronic warfare and cyber defence systems.

The Baltic states have consistently sounded the alarm over Russia’s actions since its invasion of Georgia in 2008, and have intensified the warnings ever since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Members of Nato, the three Baltic countries have troops from the US, UK, Germany and other countries present on their territory to help with air defence and deter Russia.

Arvydas Anušauskas, Lithuania’s defence minister, said on Friday: “We sincerely hope that Ukraine will not need to use the weapons being handed over. The Baltic states urge Russia to cease its aggressive and irresponsible behaviour.”

Artis Pabriks, Latvia’s defence and deputy prime minister, said: “I strongly urge Russia to de-escalate situation at the border with Ukraine and respect its sovereignty.”

Additional reporting by Jim Pickard in London and Aime Williams in Washington

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