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Take that, Putin! UK supplying Ukraine with defensive weapon systems as war row escalates

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Tensions between Moscow and Kiev reached boiling point last year after Russia amassed more troops near the contested borders. Since 2014, more than 14,000 people have been killed in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. In September, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned an all-out war with Russia could be a “possibility”.

Now, in a direct move against Russian President Vladimir Putin, Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced the UK will provide a “new security assistance package” to aid Ukraine.

Mr Wallace told MPs: “In light of the increasingly threatening behaviour from Russia and in addition to our current support, the UK is providing a new security assistance package to increase Ukraine’s defensive capabilities.

“We have taken the decision to supply Ukraine with light anti-armour defensive weapons systems.

“A small number of UK personnel will provide early-stage training for a short period of time, within the framework of Operation Orbital, before returning to the United Kingdom.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (Image: Sky News/Getty)

Ukraine and Russia conflict reaches boiling point

Ukraine and Russia conflict reaches boiling point (Image: Getty)

“This security assistance package complements the training capabilities Ukraine already has and those that are also being provided by the UK and other allies in Europe and the United States.

“Ukraine has every right to defend its borders and this new package of aid further enhances its ability to do so.

“Let me be clear: this support is for short-range and clearly defensive weapon capabilities; they are not strategic weapons and pose no threat to Russia; they are to use in self-defence.”

The Defence Secretary said any invasion by Russia would be viewed as an “occupation”.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (Image: Getty)

He added: “I fear it could lead to a huge loss of life on all sides.

“The current difficult relationship with the Kremlin is not the one we wish it to have with the United Kingdom, it does not have to be this way.”

He went on to stress things in common between the two countries.

Mr Wallace earlier invited his Russian counterpart, Sergey Shoygu, to visit London “in the next few weeks”.

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Russia v Ukraine

Russia v Ukraine (Image: Express)

He said: “We’re ready to discuss issues related to mutual security concerns and engage constructively in good faith.”

The Defence Secretary said when it comes to the UK’s relationship with Russia the “current gap is wide but it is not unbridgeable”.

He said: “We wish to be friends with the Russian people as we have been for hundreds of years.

“And there is a world in which we can establish a mutually beneficial relationship with Russia.

Ukraine and Russia conflict

Ukraine and Russia conflict (Image: Getty)

“I still remain hopeful that diplomacy will prevail.

“It is President Putin’s choice whether to choose diplomacy and dialogue, or conflict and the consequences.”

Tobias Ellwood, Conservative chairman of the Defence Committee, asked the Defence Secretary: “We’re now seeing Putin clearly intends to invade as part of his wider strategy to expand Moscow’s sphere of influence and indeed help label and indeed retain NATO as the adversary that Russia must stand up to.

“Russia has now amassed the land forces, the weapons systems and even the field hospitals to allow an invasion to take place.

MP Tobias Ellwood

MP Tobias Ellwood (Image: Getty)

“Could the Secretary of State say when these anti-armour weapons systems that he’s providing will be operational in Ukraine and also does he believe that if Putin does give the green light to an invasion, what additional military support could NATO provide to offer to Ukraine to help thwart the Russian aggression?”

Mr Wallace replied: “There is still a way to go, we still have NATO, we still have our alliances, we still have the international community and its effort to try and find a diplomatic solution, and we will carry on doing that until the very last moment.

“I hope – because I think President Putin has still not made a final decision – but I hope that that is enough to ward the Kremlin off – a united front on sanctions which is what we are developing, prepared and ready if something were to happen, a strong resilience in Ukraine should at the very least give people a pause for thought.

“The first systems were delivered today in country.”

Ukraine and Russia conflict

Ukraine and Russia conflict (Image: Getty)

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, previously warned if tensions between Moscow and Ukraine continue to rise, there could be a repeat of the Cuban missile crisis.

His comments came after Moscow accused Ukraine of moving heavy artillery towards the front line of fighting with pro-Russian separatists and failing to engage in a peace process.

Kiev denied Russian accusations that it plans to seize back territory by force and Mr Zelenskiy said in December that he was hopeful of reaching a new ceasefire deal.

Mr Putin said talk of an invasion is “provocative” and accused Ukraine and NATO of fanning tensions.

The head of the Russian armed forces, Valery Gerasimov, was quoted by Russian news agencies as telling foreign military attaches that the situation in eastern Ukraine was escalating and Kiev was to blame.