Ukraine gets shields and howitzers as Europe opens military stocks

Weapons from the former East Germany are among supplies being sent to help fend off Russian invasion

Russia's invasion has prompted even usually pacifist nations, such as Germany and non-Nato members Sweden and Finland, to open up their military stocks in support of Ukraine. Photo: AFP
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Ukraine will receive East German howitzers and thousands of helmets and body shields from Nordic countries in the latest shipment of military gear to be sent by allies in Europe.

Russia’s invasion has prompted even usually pacifist nations, such as Germany and non-Nato members Sweden and Finland, to open up their military stocks in support of Ukraine.

Berlin’s change of heart on sending weapons to war zones means 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger surface-to-air missiles will be exported to Ukraine.

It also means Estonia can export a stock of ammunition and weapons that once belonged to the National People’s Army of communist East Germany, including D-30 howitzers of Soviet design.

Although the East German weapons were sold to Finland, then Estonia, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the government of the reunified Germany retained the right to veto their onward export.

Estonia’s request to supply them to Ukraine was initially denied, but the veto was lifted because the Russian attack has “created a new reality” in Europe, said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

The same approval was given to 400 anti-tank weapons produced in Germany that now belong to the Dutch military.

Germany had been ridiculed for sending just 5,000 helmets as Russian troops gathered on the border. On Sunday, it announced its own military would receive a one-off €100 billion ($112bn) spending boost to modernise its equipment in light of the Russian threat.

Elsewhere, Finland announced it was sending Ukraine 2,000 bulletproof vests, 2,000 helmets, 100 stretchers and other medical supplies. Like Germany, it approved Estonia’s request to forward goods bought from Finland.

Its neighbour Sweden said it would provide 500 million krona ($52.6m) directly to the Ukrainian armed forces, as well as 5,000 helmets, 5,000 body shields and 135,000 field rations.

The two Nordic nations are not part of Nato but have sided with Ukraine in the current crisis and rejected the idea that Russia should veto any future membership application.

“It is also important that the EU is continuing to demonstrate great unity,” said Swedish EU Affairs Minister Hans Dahlgren.

Both countries also approved the EU's move to finance weapons deliveries to a country under attack for the first time.

The EU funding will consist of €450m for weapons for the Ukrainian army and €50m for non-lethal supplies such as fuel and protective gear, said the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell.

Poland, which neighbours Ukraine, will be the logistical centre for distributing these weapons to the front line.

“We want to keep peace in Europe, but we have to be prepared to defend this peace,” Mr Borrell said.

Britain and the US started supplying Ukraine with defensive weapons before the invasion began and said they would continue to do so.

US President Joe Biden announced an extra $350m worth of supplies for Ukraine at the weekend, including munitions, body armour and other equipment.

Ukraine has lobbied for greater western support as it tries to fend off the Russian invasion. The US estimates that about half of the 150,000 Russian troops who gathered on the border before the invasion are in Ukraine.

A UK intelligence update on Monday said the Russian invaders had been frustrated by Ukraine’s resistance, their own logistical failures and were falling behind their military targets.

Updated: February 28, 2022, 11:34 AM