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Britain sends new weapons to Ukraine as US, Germany warn Russia, urge diplomacy

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (RBC-Ukraine/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. and British officials have pledged support and new weapons to Ukraine as Germany issued further calls for diplomacy and warnings to Moscow amid a troop buildup in western Russia.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said on January 17 that Britain was providing Ukraine with new “defensive weapons systems,” and announced a fresh diplomatic overture toward Moscow.

“We have taken the decision to supply Ukraine with light anti-armor, defensive weapon systems,” Wallace told Parliament.

He added: “They are not strategic weapons and pose no threat to Russia. They are to use in self-defense.”

Wallace also said he was inviting Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to London for talks in the coming weeks to help defuse the crisis.

Kyiv and its Western backers say Russia has deployed tens of thousands of troops along the border with Ukraine in recent weeks in what could be preparations for a potential invasion, something Moscow has denied.

A U.S. Congressional delegation that arrived in Kyiv on January 17 to “help deter further Russian aggression,” meanwhile, underscored Western resolve in the face of the Russian threat.

“I think [Russian President] Vladimir Putin has made the biggest mistake of his career in underestimating how courageously the people of Ukraine will fight him if he invades,” Senator Richard Blumenthal (Democrat-Connecticut) told journalists after the delegation met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“And we will impose crippling economic sanctions, but more important we will give the people of Ukraine the arms, lethal arms, they need to defend their lives and livelihoods,” Blumenthal added.

He said such weapons could include Javelin anti-tank missiles, Stinger missiles, small arms, and boats.

“And so our message is: There will be consequences if he chooses to violate the sanctity of this democracy,” Senator Amy Klobuchar (Democrat-Minnesota) said.

Senator Chris Murphy (Democrat-Connecticut) told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service of U.S. military aid that Washington wants “to make sure that Ukraine gets equipment to defend itself which is not offensive in nature.”

Senator Rob Portman (Republican-Ohio) told RFE/RL that U.S. officials were “very concerned with what we see” and were also “talking about additional sanctions” against Russia.

The U.S. Congressional delegation also included Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat-New Hampshire) and Roger Wicker (Republican-Mississippi).

Earlier on January 17, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told Ukrainians during a visit to Kyiv that diplomacy was “the only way” to resolve the tense standoff between Moscow and the West over Ukraine. She repeated warnings that Russia would pay a “high price” if it launched an attack on its neighbor.

“We will do our all to guarantee Ukraine’s security. We will do our all to guarantee Europe’s security,” Baerbock told a joint press conference in Kyiv with her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba.

“Each further aggressive act will have a high price for Russia, economically, strategically, politically,” said Baerbock, a day before she is due to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.

In 2014, Russia seized Crimea and began supporting separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine in an ongoing war that has claimed more than 13,200 lives.

Kyiv and its Western backers say Russia has deployed tens of thousands of troops along the border with Ukraine in recent weeks in what could be preparations for a potential invasion, something Moscow has denied.

Talks between Moscow and Western countries on Russia’s military buildup ended with no breakthrough last week.

A cyberattack that disabled Ukraine’s government websites has further inflamed tensions, with Kyiv accusing Russia of being behind it. The Kremlin has denied any involvement.

Addressing the press briefing on January 17, Kuleba said Ukraine and Germany were united in pushing to revive four-way talks on putting an end to the fighting in eastern Ukraine in the so-called “Normandy” format, which includes Germany, France, Ukraine, and Russia.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly sought reassurances from the West that no decisions will be made about the future of their country without Kyiv’s involvement and assent.

“It is important for us now that neither Berlin nor Paris makes any decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, and does not play any game behind our backs in relations with Russia,” said Kuleba, who thanked Baerbock “for taking such a principled position.”

Kyiv fiercely opposes the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project aimed at shipping Russian natural gas to Germany, bypassing Ukrainian territory.

Baerbock noted that the project was now on hold and should fully comply with European energy regulations.

In a statement, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the project’s certification should not be “artificially delayed and politicized” by German regulators and the European Commission.