US military equipment flown into Ukraine as the UK urges NATO unity

Kyiv: A US plane carrying military equipment and munitions landed in Kyiv on Tuesday (local time), the third shipment of a $US200 million ($280 million) security package to shore up Ukraine as it braces for a possible Russian military offensive.

The United States has been Ukraine’s most powerful backer in trying to avert a new attack by Russia, which has massed tens of thousands of troops along the border. Moscow denies planning an invasion.

Workers in Kyiv unload a shipment of military aid delivered from the United States on Tuesday.Credit:AP

The United States has committed more than $US650 million in security assistance to Ukraine in the past year and more than $2.7 billion in total since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

Ukraine, while welcoming the aid, has also criticised as “premature” a partial pullout of US embassy staff and families.

The US State Department announced on Sunday it was ordering diplomats’ family members to leave Ukraine, saying military action by Russia could come at any time.

Canada on Tuesday became the latest country – joining Australia and other countries – to temporarily withdraw the families of its diplomats.

Calls for unity

Ukraine’s leaders sought to reassure the nation that an invasion was not imminent, even as they took charge of the US military shipment to help shore up defences.

Several rounds of high stakes diplomacy have failed to yield any breakthroughs and tensions have escalated in recent days.

NATO said it was bolstering its deterrence in the Baltic Sea region, while the US put 8500 troops on high alert for potential deployment to Europe as part of an alliance “response force” if necessary.

The US moves are being made in tandem with actions from other NATO members to bolster a defensive presence in eastern Europe.

Denmark is sending a frigate and F-16 warplanes to Lithuania; Spain is sending four fighter jets to Bulgaria and three ships to the Black Sea to join NATO naval forces, while France stands ready to send troops to Romania. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday said he was also prepared to send troops to protect NATO allies in Europe.

A serviceman checks his machine gun in a shelter on the territory controlled by pro-Russian militants in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine.Credit:AP

Russia wants guarantees from the West that NATO will never admit Ukraine as a member and that the alliance would curtail other actions, such as stationing troops in former Soviet bloc countries. Most of Russia’s demands are non-starters for NATO, creating a seemingly intractable stalemate that many fear can only end in a war.

Johnson, speaking in the British Parliament on Tuesday, urged European allies to remain united and deploy tough sanctions if Russia invaded.

“It is absolutely vital that … the West is united now because it is our unity now that will be much more effective in deterring any Russian aggression,” he said.

Britain is in discussions about banning Russia from the Swift global payments system with the United States. The European Union has threatened sanctions, but member states differ over what action to take.

Johnson called out Germany’s hesitancy at committing to action, describing Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s position as “extreme delicacy” due to Germany’s reliance on Russian gas.

The European Union depends on Russia for around one-third of its gas supplies and any interruptions to supply would exacerbate an existing energy crisis caused by shortages. Record power prices have already driven up consumer energy bills and business costs.

Senior officials in the US Biden administration said talks were under way with energy-producing countries and companies around the world over a potential diversion of supplies to Europe if Russia invades Ukraine.

Johnson said Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to recreate Soviet-era “spheres of influence” and must be prevented from doing so.

“We cannot bargain away the vision of a Europe whole and free that emerged in those amazing years from 1989 to 1991,” Johnson said, referring to the end of Communist rule in eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“Healing the division of our continent by the Iron Curtain, we will not reopen that divide by agreeing to overturn the European security order because Russia has placed a gun to Ukraine’s head.”

He urged NATO countries to be careful to avoid provoking an invasion and said the best package of deterrence included economic sanctions and the supply of defensive weaponry.

During a meeting with Scholz in Berlin, French President Emmanuel Macron said that while the two countries would not abandon dialogue with Russia, the price of any military incursion by Moscow would be high.

He said Europe and its allies stood united.

Ukraine’s government looks to quell fears

Despite reassurances from President Volodymyr Zelensky that there was no need to panic, people on the street are worried.

A Kyiv International Institute of Sociology poll found about 48 per cent of Ukrainians believe that an invasion in the coming months is a real possibility.

“Of course we fear Russia’s aggression and a war, which will lead to the further impoverishment of Ukrainians, but we will be forced to fight and defend ourselves,” said Dmytro Ugol, a 46-year-old construction worker in Kyiv.

“I am prepared to fight, but my entire family doesn’t want it and lives in tension. Every day, the news scares us more and more.”

Reuters, AP

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