Britain last night sent troops and hi-tech weapons to Ukraine in a bid to thwart a feared Russian invasion.
In a clear signal to Vladimir Putin, two RAF transporters flew badly needed missile systems to Kiev’s forces. Troops were aboard the planes and will remain in Ukraine to teach their counterparts how to combat Russian tanks.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the deployment came ‘in light of the increasingly threatening behaviour from Russia’.
Up to 100,000 of Moscow’s troops are stationed along the border, sparking fears that an invasion could be days away.
The Kremlin insists it has ‘no plans’ to attack but the build-up of its troops, tanks and artillery pieces suggests otherwise.
Warning President Putin against ‘what could be a very, very bloody war’, Mr Wallace told MPs: ‘The UK is providing a new security assistance package to increase Ukraine’s defensive capabilities. We have taken the decision to supply Ukraine with light, anti-armour, defensive weapon systems.
‘A small number of UK personnel will also provide early-stage training for a short period of time before then returning to the United Kingdom.’
However, Germany hasn’t moved from its position of refusing to provide Ukraine with weapons, according to Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.
She warned on a visit to Kiev that ‘any further escalation would carry a high price for the Russian regime – economic, political and strategic’ – and emphasized the need to continue negotiations.
‘We are prepared to have a serious dialogue with Russia, because diplomacy is the only way to defuse this highly dangerous situation,’ she added.
Baerbock said Germany has offered to send cybersecurity specialists to Ukraine to help investigate last week’s cyberattacks, which Ukrainian authorities have blamed on Russia.
‘We made clear that we will do everything to avoid escalating the crisis,’ she said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on a visit to Spain that ‘we expect clear steps from Russia to deescalate the situation,’ adding that ‘military aggression against Ukraine would entail serious political and economic consequences.’
As the Bundestag continues to oppose involvement, flightpath tracking data shows how British aircraft are avoiding German airspace en route to ferrying anti-armour weaponry to Ukraine.
Combat training sessions with personnel of formations and military units of the Guards Tank Army of the Western Military District in the Moscow Region on January 12
A soldier holding an 84mm unguided anti-armour weapon – effective in assaulting tanks and combat vehicles, landing craft, helicopter, aircraft and armoured vehicles
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (pictured) said Britain will supply Ukraine with ‘self-defence’ weapons and training to help increase its defensive capabilities
As the Bundestag continues to oppose involvement, flightpath tracking data shows how British aircraft are avoiding German airspace en route to ferrying anti-armour weaponry to Ukraine
Members of the Kyiv Territorial Defense Unit are trained in an industrial area on January 15 in Kyiv, Ukraine
It comes as the threat of a Russian invasion has increased over the last few months. Pictured: Ukrainian soldiers stand in a trench near the front line on January 17, in the village of New York, formerly known as Novhorodske, Ukraine
Russia conducted military drills with tanks and explosives in an attempted show of strength
‘I still remain hopeful that diplomacy will prevail,’ Mr Wallace said. ‘It is President Putin’s (pictured) choice whether to choose diplomacy and dialogue, or conflict and the consequences’
What is happening in Ukraine?
What is happening?
According to UK defence experts, Vladimir Putin is on the brink of invading Ukraine for a second time – having sent troops into the country’s eastern regions and Crimea in 2014.
His apparent intention is to prevent Ukraine joining Nato, the defensive alliance led by the US and the UK. As a precursor to conflict he issued a set of demands which he surely knew would be rejected, including the withdrawal of Nato troops from all former Soviet republics. Around 100,000 Russian troops are positioned in striking distance of Ukraine and in recent days military hospitals have been built – often an indicator conflict is imminent.
How did we get here?
Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has become increasingly pro-Western and its government is desperate to join Nato and the EU – moves Russia strongly opposes.
Putin wants Ukraine back under Moscow’s control as part of his ‘sphere of influence’ strategy to redraw the political map. He has already succeeded in Belarus, a close ally with an autocratic president who shares his ideals.
How close is it to war?
Days of talks between East and West last week failed to produce any peace settlement. Mr Putin has arguably come too close to conflict to turn back. Experts think he could launch a military offensive within a matter of days – although he may prefer to soften up Ukraine with further cyber-warfare strikes first. Washington has said it has intelligence that Moscow is planning an attack on its own forces so it can blame Ukraine and move in, known as a ‘false flag’ attack.
What will the West do if Putin invades?
Ukraine doesn’t belong to Nato so there will be no military response, at least not officially. Any military assistance provided by the UK or US will be covert and deniable. President Joe Biden and Boris Johnson have agreed a package of ‘unprecedented’ economic sanctions against Russia in the event of war.
Putin wants to force a favourable diplomatic settlement. He may be able to do so if he restricts his offensive to the eastern regions already occupied by pro-Russian separatists. He could then call for that region to become independent from the rest of Ukraine, just as Crimea is.
The deployment was welcomed last night by Tobias Ellwood, Tory chairman of the Commons defence committee but he said Ukraine needed further help to stand up to Russia.
‘We have a responsibility to European security,’ he told Channel 4 News. ‘What happens in Ukraine has significant impact for the rest of Eastern Europe. So it’s important that we stand with the Ukrainians.
‘What Putin is trying to achieve here, he’s trying to redraw the map of Eastern Europe. Putin is all ready to go.
‘He has had the assurance from Nato it will not respond militarily so he’s simply waiting now for a break in the weather – oddly enough for the weather to become colder for the roads and the lakes to freeze over – and then that’s when I think the campaign will start in earnest.’
The weapons flown to Ukraine are understood to include shoulder-fired missiles, such as the AT4 84mm anti-armour system which is widely used by Nato members.
In eastern Ukraine – the region most likely to see conflict between British-trained troops and Russian soldiers – the weapon could destroy advancing tanks and combat vehicles, helicopters and aircraft flying at low altitude.
The number of British troops involved was not revealed last night for security reasons.
They will not engage the Russians or deploy to the battle zone. Because Ukraine does not belong to Nato, there will be no military response from the UK, US and other alliance members to an invasion.
In his statement to MPs, Mr Wallace added: ‘The Prime Minister has been clear that any destabilising action by Russia in Ukraine would be a strategic mistake that would have significant consequences.
‘That is why there is a package of international sanctions ready to go that will make sure the Russian government is punished if it crosses the line.’
He added: ‘Ukraine is not a member of Nato and British troops will not be deploying to fight Russians.’
The C-17 military transporters carrying the weapons and troops last night were forced to change route after Germany denied access to its airspace.
After taking off from the UK, the pair had to cross over Denmark and the Baltic before heading south over Poland.
It is thought that Berlin, which stands to benefit from the Nord Stream2 gas pipeline connecting it to Russia, wants to remain neutral and has meetings with Moscow this week.
The British move comes after Russia launched a cyber-attack that destroyed the websites of several Ukrainian government departments.Kremlin-backed hackers also left chilling messages threatening pro-Western notables by telling them: ‘Be afraid and expect the worse.’
Negotiations last week between Russian and Western diplomats, who were hoping to defuse the prospect of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, ended inconclusively
An Ukrainian soldier dressed in camouflage and armed with a rifle walks in a trench near the border with Russia
In recent months, Russia has amassed forces and military equipment near the Ukrainian border, raising the possibility of an invasion
A soldier from Ukraine uses a hand-held periscope to view the positions of Russian-backed troops in a trench near the front line
An Ukrainian soldier called Maksym feeds a woodstove to heat a small bunker on the front line on January 17
An invasion would likely come from the country’s east, where separatists have waged a nearly 8-year war against the Ukrainian government. Pictured: A Ukrainian soldier armed with a gun
Ben Wallace told MPs there was ‘real cause of concern’ over the scale of the force being assembled by the Kremlin. Pictured: Ukrainian soldiers climb up a small hill in a trench near the front line
Mr Wallace said: ‘Ukraine has every right to defend its borders and this new package of aid further enhances its ability to do so.’ Pictured: Ukrainian soldiers in a trench near the front line
Putin’s army carrying out shooting exercises in the Rostov region bordering Ukraine on Monday
Snipers started the shooting training at the Kadamovsky training ground in the Rostov region
Russian troops from the western military district in tank ambush drills
The deployment of British weapons and troops also follows the failure of talks in Brussels and Vienna last week.
The UK and the US dismissed Russian demands for a veto over which countries can join Nato and for the withdrawal of Western troops from former Soviet republics.
The UK has trained over 22,000 Ukrainian troops since 2015. The mission began after the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Since then 15,000 Ukrainian troops and Russian separatists have been killed in fighting in the Donbas region. In 2019 the UK expanded its military support to Ukraine to naval cooperation and last year the Government announced it would provide two mine counter-measure vessels.
It was also agreed that Kiev would buy up to eight new ships made in the UK and equipped with weapons systems.
Mr Wallace said he ‘remained hopeful’ that diplomacy could prevail. He has invited the Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu to London for talks.
Source: Daily Mail