Poland and Latvia declare Germany’s ban on supplying arms to Ukraine ‘a big mistake’

Poland and Latvia have declared Germany’s refusal to supply arms to Ukraine as ‘a big mistake’ as Kiev braces for a potential Russian invasion . 

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he was ‘concerned’ by Germany’s reaction to Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s border, after Berlin refused to issue permits for German weapons to be exported to Kiev. 

Unlike the US, UK, Poland and other allies, the German government has declined to export their arms despite the escalating tensions as part of a longstanding policy to send arms to tense regions. 

Germany is also heavily dependent on Russia for its supply of gas, with up to 40 per cent of the EU nation’s gas imports coming via Russian pipelines. 

Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks described Germany’s policy on weapons for Ukraine as a ‘big mistake’. 

It comes as Ukraine said it arrested Russian-backed saboteurs who were plotting attacks in border regions with the aim of ‘destabilising’ the country.

Germany’s refusal to issue permits for German-origin weapons to be exported to Kiev has meant it is blocking NATO ally Estonia from giving military support to Ukraine.    

‘I observe with concern the situation in Ukraine and the reactions of our neighbours from Germany in the face of the threat from Russia,’ Poland’s Prime Minister Morawiecki said. 

‘A great disappointment is, among other things, Germany withholding its consent for the supply of weapons from Estonia to a state that is preparing to defend itself against an aggressor.’

Elsewhere today…

  • Russia announced snap ‘combat readiness’ drills for 6,000 troops and 60 tanks in occupied Crimea
  • The US said it has spoken to natural gas producers in America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East about boosting supplies to Europe if Putin turns off the taps
  • Ukraine downplayed the risk of an imminent invasion, with President Zelenskyy urging his population not to ‘panic’  
A Ukrainian soldiers holds his machine gun in a trench on the territory controlled by pro-Russian militants at frontline with Ukrainian government forces in Slavyanoserbsk, Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, on Tuesday

A Ukrainian soldiers holds his machine gun in a trench on the territory controlled by pro-Russian militants at frontline with Ukrainian government forces in Slavyanoserbsk, Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, on Tuesday

Ukrainian security service agents raid a property they say was being used by a criminal gang to plan a series of robberies in border regions

Ukrainian security service agents raid a property they say was being used by a criminal gang to plan a series of robberies in border regions

Poland has long urged Germany to take a tougher stance towards Russia, particularly as regards the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. 

Some central and eastern European countries think the pipeline will give Russian President Vladimir Putin a lever to exert undue influence on western and central Europe.

Morawiecki said the ‘black scenario’ that Poland had been warning about was now arriving, and that the construction of Nord Stream 2 and Russia’s ‘gas blackmail’ were giving Putin ‘the tools to terrorise other European countries’. 

Andriy Melnyk, Kiev’s ambassador to Berlin, said earlier this week that Ukraine wants German warships to help defend against Russian attacks on its coasts in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov, and anti-aircraft systems to prevent attacks from the air. 

But German Chancellor Olaf Scholz rejected the idea of supplying even defensive weapons to Kiev – citing a long-standing German policy. 

A Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman, watches through spyglass in a dugout on the frontline with Russia-backed separatists near Gorlivka, Donetsk region, on January 23

A Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman, watches through spyglass in a dugout on the frontline with Russia-backed separatists near Gorlivka, Donetsk region, on January 23

Germany justifies its stance towards Russia by arguing it owes an historical debt to Moscow due to atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis against the Soviets during the Second World War.

It justifies the ban on exporting lethal weapons along the same lines.

But such reasoning is failing to wash with Kiev, which points out the Nazis also occupied large parts of eastern Europe – including Ukraine – during the war and perpetrated some of their worst atrocities there.

‘It’s astonishing that in Berlin the question of historical responsibility is used as an argument for rejecting military aid,’ Melnyk said.

It comes as Ukraine’s SBU security service said today a ‘criminal’ group was preparing a ‘series of armed attacks’ on city infrastructure ‘coordinated by Russian special service’. 

Two men, one of them a Russian citizen, were arrested during raids in Kharkiv, close to the Russian border, and Zhytomyr, in western Ukraine, today.

Agents say the pair had been recruiting other men – mostly Russians with criminal histories – under the guise of a security company to take part in the attacks. 

It follows a build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine, with the US warning Moscow may launch ‘false flag’ attacks in border regions to justify an invasion.

Russian news agencies quoted the southern military district describing the live-fire drills as a combat readiness check, keeping up a campaign of pressure on Ukraine that Putin hopes will result in security concessions.

Ukrainian agents say the pair arrested Tuesday were planning a series of robberies against ‘urban infrastructure’, including ‘commercial’ properties.

The gang was allegedly organised by two men, one with Russian citizenship, who recruited other criminals using the guise of a security company.

Raids on Tuesday targeted properties belong to both the alleged organisers, with police saying they found a bomb, guns and ammunition.

Also uncovered were devices to disrupt radio communications, plans detailing the robberies, and walkie talkies to be used for communication, it is alleged.

Computers and other electronic devices were also seized with ‘evidence of criminal activity’ on them, the SBU said. 

Images show officers also seized a large amount of cash, mainly in Ukrainian hryvnia notes and US dollars. 

Guns, ammunition, a bomb, radio frequency jammers and other equipment was seized by agents in the raids on Tuesday

Guns, ammunition, a bomb, radio frequency jammers and other equipment was seized by agents in the raids on Tuesday

Vladimir Putin has been building Russian forces on the Ukrainian border since November last year, with around 100,000 troops now stationed close to Ukraine along with tanks and artillery units.

That has sparked fears the strongman is about to invade, with the US warning an attack could be imminent.

However, Ukraine sought to downplay the risk of an immediate invasion on Tuesday – with both the defence minister and head of the national defence council saying Russian troops are not yet ready to cross the border.

Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Russian forces have not yet formed into battle groups – a precursor to military action which takes time to achieve, suggesting an attack is not currently being prepared.

‘There are risky scenarios. They’re possible and probable in the future,’ he told Ukraine’s ICTV channel on Monday. ‘But as of today… such a threat doesn’t exist.’ 

Ukraine says the criminal group, operating under the guise of a security company, was being coordinated by Russian special services

Ukraine says the criminal group, operating under the guise of a security company, was being coordinated by Russian special services

Large amounts of cash, mostly in the local hryvnia notes and US dollars, was also seized

Large amounts of cash, mostly in the local hryvnia notes and US dollars, was also seized

Missile crisis II? Kremlin reveals Putin has discussed ‘strategic partnership’ with Cuba

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed a ‘strategic partnership’ with Cuba in the international arena in a phone call with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, the Kremlin has revealed.

The two leaders reaffirmed their ‘commitment to strengthen bilateral relations’, just days after fears were raised that Russia would deploy their military to Cuba and Venezuela if tensions with the US over Ukraine escalated.

It comes against the backdrop of Russia’s build-up of 100,000 troops, as well as tanks and missiles, on its border with Ukraine, which has sparked fears of a war in Europe and a standoff between East and West.

Díaz-Canel said he and Putin had a ‘cordial and fruitful’ conversation on Monday morning, with both leaders discussing the ‘excellent state of relations’ between Cuba and Russia.

They also spoke about the ‘future development of bilateral collaboration’ in various fields, Díaz-Canel said, without expanding.

The call comes mere days after Cuba and Venezuela were dragged into the dispute between Russia and the West.

Moscow’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said he could ‘neither confirm nor exclude’ the possibility of Russia sending military assets to Latin America if the U.S. and its allies don’t curtail their military activities on Russia’s doorstep.

‘It all depends on the action by our U.S. counterparts,’ the minister said in an interview with Russian television network RTVI, citing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning that Moscow could take unspecified ‘military-technical measures’ if the U.S. and its allies fail to heed its demands.

Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, echoed that sentiment, saying the movement of Russian troops near Ukraine’s border ‘is not news’.

‘As of today, we don’t see any grounds for statements about a full-scale offensive on our country,’ he said.

The pair spoke after a detailed analysis by the Center for Defense Strategies, published by a major Ukrainian newspaper, concluded that a Russian invasion is not currently possible and would need at least two or three weeks to prepare, based on troop formations.

While the center lays out several actions that Putin could take to threaten Ukraine – including moving more troops to border zones, cyberattacks, and bolstering support for rebel groups deployed in the east – analysts conclude a full-scale invasion is unlikely.

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy added late on Monday that the situation is ‘under control’ and there is ‘no reason to panic’.

Meanwhile the US said it is speaking to natural gas producers in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and America about the possibility of temporarily boosting output and selling the extra gas to Europe.

The move is designed to keep countries heated should Putin restrict Russian supplies as a way of punishing the continent for uniting against him.

Moscow has since issued a list of security demands, and though Washington has described most of them as non-starters, high-level talks are underway. 

In the meantime, US diplomats have rallied European leaders to the cause – warning of coordinated and unprecedented sanctions if the attack goes ahead.

President Biden has also placed 8,500 US troops on standby and placed a US aircraft carrier under NATO control, as the military alliance rushes extra ships and warplanes to shore up security on its eastern borders.

The USS Harry S. Truman is now under NATO command – the first time a US aircraft carrier has been deployed by the alliance since the end of the Cold War.

Biden has ordered 8,500 U.S.-based troops to stand ready to deploy to Eastern Europe, while military officials have presented him with a plan to send 50,000 more if the security situation deteriorates.

At the same time, the US told families based at the US embassy in Kiev to go home ‘due to the continued threat’ of such an attack, the State Department said Sunday.

Though the number fluctuates due to changing withdrawals and deployments, the U.S. had about 175,000 troops stationed abroad as of September 2021. A total of nearly 64,000 of those service members were stationed in Europe.

The U.S. has about 750 military bases across 80 countries.

Command for the U.S.’s 40 warships is based out Italy, and the U.S. has already flexed its muscle to Russia by sending ships to the politically fraught Black Sea.

Germany houses the largest deployment of U.S. troops in Europe, and only Japan and America have more U.S. troops based there. 

There are 35, 468 U.S. troops in Germany – 21,585 Army, 13,009 Air Force and small numbers of troops from the Marine Corps and Navy.

Meanwhile James Heappey, a UK defence minister, warned that a ‘significant’ number of Russian troops are already in Ukraine and stationed in the country’s east.

He said the troops are operating behind frontlines where Ukrainian armed forces have been fighting Russian-backed rebel groups since 2014.

The Kremlin, which denies any plans to invade, today expressed concern over what it said was an ‘exacerbation of tensions’ by Western nations.

US forces in Europe: Map shows where American troops are deployed after Biden said 8,500 were being put on alert for deployment to eastern Europe

US forces in Europe: Map shows where American troops are deployed after Biden said 8,500 were being put on alert for deployment to eastern Europe

Russian forces in Europe: Map shows the position of Russian troops near Ukraine, in Belarus and Crimea, as well as the location of naval exercises due to take place near Ireland

Russian forces in Europe: Map shows the position of Russian troops near Ukraine, in Belarus and Crimea, as well as the location of naval exercises due to take place near Ireland

Ukraine sends troops to defend CHERNOBYL 

Ukraine has sent troops to guard against any Russian incursion on the Chernobyl exclusion zone, with the highly radioactive site believed to be a potential entry point for Kremlin aggressors.

Despite the site in northern Ukraine still being radioactive and mainly harbouring ghost towns and fallow fields, the Chernobyl exclusion zone is believed to be at risk of being conquered, reports The New York Times.

This is because the shortest path from Russia to Kiev would take Putin’s troops through the isolated zone.

In preparation for a potential Russian incursion into the exclusion zone, which was established after a reactor meltdown in 1986, Ukrainian troops are currently patrolling the snowy forests and abandoned streets of Chernobyl, equipped with Kalashnikov rifles – as well as equipment to detect radiation exposure.

Lt. Col. Yuri Shakhraichuk of the Ukrainian border guard service told The New York Times: ‘It doesn’t matter if it is contaminated or nobody lives here.

‘It is our territory, our country, and we must defend it.’

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that ‘gloomy’ intelligence suggested Russia was planning a lightning raid on Kiev, as British staff and their families began leaving the Ukrainian capital.

The Prime Minister warned Russian President Vladimir Putin, who in 2014 led a Russian annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, that a fresh invasion would be a ‘disastrous step’.

‘The intelligence is very clear that there are 60 Russian battle groups on the borders of Ukraine, the plan for a lightning war that could take out Kiev is one that everybody can see,’ Mr Johnson said.

‘We need to make it very clear to the Kremlin, to Russia, that that would be a disastrous step.’

He warned that the people of Ukraine would resist any invasion and ‘from a Russian perspective, (it) is going to be a painful, violent and bloody business’, he said.

‘I think it’s very important that people in Russia understand that this could be a new Chechnya.’

France’s Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Olaf Scholz, Poland’s Andrzej Duda and Italy’s Mario Draghi also joined the video call on Monday evening, along with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg.

‘The leaders agreed that, should a further Russian incursion into Ukraine happen, allies must enact swift retributive responses including an unprecedented package of sanctions,’ Downing Street said following the discussions lasting over an hour.

Mr Johnson, according to No 10, emphasised the need to support Ukraine’s defences ‘against the full spectrum of malign Russian activity’.

The United States also ordered the families of all American personnel at the US Embassy to leave the country in response the the risk of an invasion.

But the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said: ‘We are not going to do the same thing’ and Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said the US decision was ‘a premature step’ and a sign of ‘excessive caution’.

Downing Street said British combat troops would not be used to defend Ukraine.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said around 30 British diplomats, including the ambassador, remained in Ukraine.

A Russian paratrooper takes part in military drills to the east of Moscow on Tuesday

A Russian paratrooper takes part in military drills to the east of Moscow on Tuesday

Russian ground troops take part in training exercises near Moscow, amid tensions with Ukraine

Russian ground troops take part in training exercises near Moscow, amid tensions with Ukraine

A Russian soldier fires his rifle during training exercises near Moscow on Tuesday

A Russian soldier fires his rifle during training exercises near Moscow on Tuesday

The Foreign Office said: ‘Some embassy staff and dependants are being withdrawn from Kiev in response to the growing threat from Russia.

‘The British Embassy remains open and will continue to carry out essential work.’

Putin may avoid an incursion of Ukraine because it could damage his popularity, the former head of the British Army said this morning.

Lord Dannatt believes ‘the Ukrainians will fight and fight hard’, and that would mean Russian fatalities and casualties.

He told Times Radio: ‘He is very powerful but he does not have universal popularity. There is quite an opposition movement to him.

‘If Russian television screens get filled with body bags and casualties coming back from a bloody incursion in Ukraine, that will damage his popularity and damage his standing as opposed to boosting his position – so he has got a calculation to make.’

Meanwhile Gordon Brown has said a show of strength is needed to face down Putin. The former prime minister recalled that, during his dealings with Mr Putin, the Russian leader had said he ‘would not co-operate in any way’.

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘You have to be able to stand up to him. Remember the assassinations on British soil? He was going to assassinate other people if we hadn’t stood up to him. The only thing that Putin understands is strength.

‘Perhaps belatedly, the right thing to do is a show of strength from Nato and unity from Nato, and that is something that has got to be fought for and making it clear that we will not accept Russian incursions.

‘I think it will be financial and economic sanctions that are going to have to be so severe that the Russian autocrats, the Russian oligarchs and Putin himself and his government is affected by them.’

Russian tanks are prepared to take part in a 'combat readiness check' that will involve some 6,000 troops stationed in Crimea

Russian tanks are prepared to take part in a ‘combat readiness check’ that will involve some 6,000 troops stationed in Crimea

Russian troops and a tank stationed in occupied Crimea take part in a snap 'combat readiness check' announced on Tuesday

Russian troops and a tank stationed in occupied Crimea take part in a snap ‘combat readiness check’ announced on Tuesday

William

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