Germany is under mounting pressure from European allies to drop its long-standing refusal to supply weapons to Ukraine to help the country to defend itself from a Russian attack.
Britain flew short-range anti-tank missiles to Ukraine on Monday, avoiding German airspace. British Defense Minister Ben Wallace indicated to lawmakers that more military aid and extra security assistance will likely be forthcoming in light of Russia's “increasingly threatening behavior” on Ukraine’s borders, where the Kremlin has amassed more than 100,000 troops.
Wallace said there is a “legitimate and real cause for concern” that Russia is planning an invasion. Russian officials have denied they have any such plans, but U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Wednesday, ahead of talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, that the “sense of the threat to Ukraine is unprecedented.”
Ukraine has become increasingly frustrated with Germany on the issue of military supplies. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov complained last month that Berlin had vetoed the purchase of anti-drone rifles and anti-sniper systems from the NATO Support and Procurement Agency, calling the action "very unfair.”
Later, Berlin relented on blocking the purchase of anti-drone rifles after concluding they were non-lethal weapons. Kyiv has been scrambling to plug shortages in military equipment and capabilities, but Berlin worries that supplying arms may be seen by Moscow as provocative and could trigger a Russian escalation.
Reznikov has warned that fears of confronting Putin from a position of strength were misguided.
“Not provoking Russia — that strategy does not work and will not work,” he said last month.
Ukraine has been buying arms through deals with the United States, Britain, Lithuania, France and Turkey, which has been supplying armed drones.
Anti-missile and anti-aircraft systems, electronic warfare kits and cyber defense equipment are high on Ukraine’s shopping list. Ukraine is also eager to buy surface-to-surface missiles that can strike swarms of targets simultaneously.
The Biden administration last month approved $200 million in additional defensive security aid to Ukraine and American officials Wednesday said the White House was weighing new supply options to try to raise the costs for Russian President Vladimir Putin should he decide to attack. With fears mounting that Russia is intent on major aggressive action, the administration is considering providing the Ukrainian army with more Javelin anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft missile systems.
The anti-tank missiles that Britain flew to Ukraine this week are shoulder-held weapons capable of taking out a tank from 800 meters away. They are lighter than Javelin anti-tank missiles and can be used in much tighter spaces. The British anti-tank missiles were flown to Ukraine via Danish and Swedish airspace and not on a more direct route over Germany, according to British newspaper reports, prompting speculation that this was done to avoid protests from Berlin.
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the defense committee of the British parliament, said he hopes other European allies “will follow our lead before the temperature drops and the freezing conditions make an invasion operationally possible.”
But while NATO allies are unanimous in rejecting Russian demands for Ukraine never to join the Western alliance, divisions among them extend also to what Western sanctions should be imposed on Russia if an invasion is launched.
Current and former Western diplomats say that while there is broad agreement among Western powers about sanctioning Russia in the event of a military incursion, there is no final accord on the details.
German officials told the business newspaper Handelsblatt on Wednesday that they are opposed to Russian banks and financial institutions being cut off from the SWIFT global money transfer system, which is used by more than 11,000 banks and financial institutions to make and receive cross-border payments. They say they want targeted economic sanctions against large Russian banks rather than Russia being excluded from using the transfer system.
Germany’s fear is that excluding Russia from SWIFT will backfire and encourage Russia and China to develop a rival network. They also fear such a move would cause considerable economic harm to European companies that trade with Russia. Russia is the European Union’s fifth largest trading partner, and European assets in Russia are valued at about $350 billion.
U.S. officials, who have raised the possibility of excluding Russia from SWIFT, maintain that no sanction options are off the table.
As Western allies continue to debate about what military supplies they should be sending to Ukraine and what sanctions to implement, anxiety is mounting in Baltic nations about Russia’s planned military drills with its ally Belarus.
Russian troops and military hardware, including S-400 surface-to-air missiles, have been arriving in Belarus in the past week. The drills pose a direct threat, according to Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anušauskas.
“In the current situation, we see the entry of the Russian military into Belarus not only as a destabilizing factor in the security situation but also as a more direct threat to Lithuania,” Anušauskas said in a Facebook post.
“I will shortly be meeting the ambassadors of nine NATO countries that are actively contributing to strengthening Lithuania’s security,” he said.