Ukraine’s new defence minister has blamed Germany for blocking the supply of weaponry to Kyiv through Nato, despite US warnings of a possible imminent invasion by Russian forces.
Oleksii Reznikov told the Financial Times that Berlin had in the last month vetoed Ukraine’s purchase of anti-drone rifles and anti-sniper systems via the Nato Support and Procurement Agency. However, Germany had since relented on the first item after deeming it non-lethal.
“They are still building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and at the same time blocking our defensive weapons. It is very unfair,” Reznikov said, referring to the Russian gas pipeline, which runs through the Baltic Sea to Germany and bypasses existing supply routes through Ukraine.
Kyiv has struggled to plugs gaps in its military capabilities with allies wary of supplying arms that may be deemed a provocation — or even a pretext for escalation — by Russian president Vladimir Putin. Ukraine is urgently seeking to acquire anti-missile and anti-aircraft systems, electronic warfare kit and cyber defence equipment.
Given the German blockage on procurement of lethal equipment — a position taken by Angela Merkel’s government — Reznikov said Ukraine would seek to acquire arms through bilateral deals with allies, including US, UK, Lithuania and France.
The position of the new German government, led by chancellor Olaf Scholz, is not yet clear. The German economy ministry, which is responsible for approving or vetoing weapons exports, declined to comment on Sunday, as did the German chancellery.
In May, Robert Habeck, co-leader of the Greens and now economy minister in the new ruling coalition, said Ukraine’s requests for defensive weapons would be “hard to deny”.
Reznikov said he was in a “very optimistic mood” about obtaining missiles and other defensive weaponry from the US and other western backers after holding talks with his counterparts.
But he could not confirm whether supplies would arrive swiftly enough to deter a full-blown Russian invasion. Western nations, led by the US administration of President Joe Biden, have so far used the threat of crippling economic sanctions to dissuade Moscow from further aggression.
After a summit in Liverpool, G7 foreign ministers released a statement on Sunday calling on Moscow to “de-escalate, pursue diplomatic channels, and abide by its international commitments”.
“Russia should be in no doubt that further military aggression against Ukraine would have massive consequences and severe cost in response,” the statement said.
Reznikov said western allies’ 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, noting that Moscow had invaded Georgia after Berlin and Paris had blocked the country’s path to joining Nato in 2008.
Despite the increasingly loud US warnings of a possible Russian invasion, Reznikov, like other Ukrainian officials, downplayed the imminent threat.
Kyiv estimates there are around 100,000 Russian troops deployed along its borders — similar to the Russian build-up during the spring and summer. While Moscow is building encampments for up to 175,000 personnel, according to US assessments, many of the tents appeared to be unoccupied, Reznikov said.
Still, war would be a calamity for Europe with millions of Ukrainians likely to flee to the EU and Ukraine’s vast exports of grain placed in jeopardy, he said.
“There will be a lot of coffins coming back to Russia,” he said, adding an invasion would mark “the end of the current world” and open “a new era” without international rules.
Reznikov, a lawyer who served as minister for the reintegration of occupied territories until his promotion to defence minister last month, said Kyiv had no indication from Washington that its aspirations to join Nato would be delayed or excluded. Biden last week agreed to further talks with Putin to discuss Russia’s opposition to Ukraine’s Nato membership.
Moscow’s “red line” against Ukraine entering Nato was just part of Russia’s “salami-slicing tactics” against the alliance, Reznikov said. “My perception is the US has understood these threats. They have to keep the alliance unified.”
Reznikov also denied Kyiv had come under any pressure from the US to grant special status or deeper autonomy to the occupied Donbas regions as way of kick-starting stalled peace talks.