Sunday

17th Feb 2019

UK reserves right to arm Ukraine military

  • Hammond spoke to British MPs one day ahead of the Minsk peace talks (Photo: UK Parliament)

The UK has followed the US in saying that if diplomacy doesn’t stop Russian aggression in Ukraine then it might start arming the Ukrainian military.

Foreign minister Philip Hammond made the statement in the British parliament on Tuesday (10 February).

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“It is a national decision for each country in the Nato alliance to decide whether to supply lethal aid to Ukraine. The UK is not planning to do so, but we reserve the right to keep this position under review,” he said.

“We share a clear understanding that while there is no military solution to this conflict, we could not allow the Ukrainian armed forces to collapse”.

His comment comes one day after US president Barack Obama said that "if … diplomacy fails, what I’ve asked my team to do is to look at all options …. and the possibility of lethal defensive weapons is one of those options”.

The comment also comes one day ahead of Ukraine peace talks in Minsk.

France and Germany are to represent the EU at the meeting. Both are against arming Ukraine. But one EU diplomat said it may be helpful for talks to take place amid threats of arms to give the EU side “leverage”.

The UK’s Hammond also told parliament: “What is happening on the ground [in east Ukraine] now resembles, to all intents and purposes, a small scale conventional war”.

“Russia has … transferred hundreds of heavy weapons, including rocket launchers, heavy artillery, tanks and armoured vehicles, and it maintains hundreds of regular soldiers, including special forces, in Ukraine, as well as command and control elements, air defence systems, UAVs, and electronic warfare systems”.

He said France and Germany will try to revive last year’s Minsk peace plan, but in an “updated” version “to reflect subsequent changes on the ground” - a reference to territorial gains by Russian forces.

He noted the “EU-wide consensus” on Russia sanctions has caused “surprise and dismay [in] the Kremlin”.

“It is clear that [Russian] president Putin respects only strength, and by standing united, using our combined economic muscle to impose significant economic costs on Russia, the international community has shown its determination to rebuff Russia’s anachronistic behaviour”.

Lithuania and Poland have also said they are ready to arm the Ukraine military.

For its part, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement the EU’s own 2008 “code of conduct” prohibits arms shipments to conflict zones, adding that EU states’ weapons risk being “used indiscriminately, including against civilians”.

Russia has in the past warned of grave consequences if Western arms deliveries go ahead.

But the EU diplomat added that so long as Russia doesn't admit its own armed forces are in Ukraine it cannot categorise arms shipments as an act of hostility against Russia.

“This may be the last moment that we can still do it, before the little green men show their Russian insignia, as they did in Crimea”, the source said.

The EU consensus on sanctions is to be tested with a visit, also on Wednesday, by the Russia-friendly Greek foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, to Moscow.

The new Greek government has emerged as the most likely to veto renewals or additions of Russia sanctions.

It is also sending mixed messages on whether it would accept Russian aid if its EU debt talks end badly.

The EU consensus was tested earlier last month when some member states didn’t want to come to an emergency foreign ministers’ meeting called after a rocket attack on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

EUobserver understands sceptical member states held out on grounds they didn’t believe Ukrainian reports on the number of Russian forces in Ukraine and on their role in the Mariupol offensive.

But a report by IntCen, the EU foreign service’ intelligence-sharing branch, helped persuade them of the facts.

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