European Nations with Patriots Hesitate to Give Their Missile Systems to Ukraine 

German Patriot air defense system units are seen at the Vilnius airport, ahead of a NATO summit, in Vilnius, Lithuania July 10, 2023. (Reuters)
German Patriot air defense system units are seen at the Vilnius airport, ahead of a NATO summit, in Vilnius, Lithuania July 10, 2023. (Reuters)
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European Nations with Patriots Hesitate to Give Their Missile Systems to Ukraine 

German Patriot air defense system units are seen at the Vilnius airport, ahead of a NATO summit, in Vilnius, Lithuania July 10, 2023. (Reuters)
German Patriot air defense system units are seen at the Vilnius airport, ahead of a NATO summit, in Vilnius, Lithuania July 10, 2023. (Reuters)

European Union countries possessing Patriot air defense systems appeared hesitant on Monday to give any to Ukraine, which is desperately seeking at least seven of the missile batteries to help fend off Russian air attacks.

Russia’s air force is vastly more powerful than Ukraine’s, but sophisticated missile systems provided by Kyiv’s Western partners can pose a major threat to Russian aviation as the Kremlin’s forces slowly push forward along the roughly 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front line in the war.

Dutch Foreign Minister Hanke Bruins Slot said the Netherlands is “looking at every kind of possibility at the moment” and is offering financial support to a German initiative to help Ukraine bolster its air defenses and to buy more drones.

Asked at a meeting of European Union foreign and defense ministers why the Netherlands is reluctant to send some of its Patriot systems, Slot said: “We are looking again if we can deplete our store of what we still have, but that will be difficult.”

Last week, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the military organization “has mapped out existing capabilities across the alliance and there are systems that can be made available to Ukraine.” He did not name the countries that possess Patriots.

The Patriot is a guided missile system that can target aircraft, cruise missiles and shorter-range ballistic missiles. Each battery consists of a truck-mounted launching system with eight launchers that can hold up to four missile interceptors each, a ground radar, a control station and a generator.

A key advantage of the US-made systems, apart from their effectiveness, is that Ukrainian troops are already trained to use them.

But Patriots take a long time to make — as long as two years, some estimates suggest — so countries are reluctant to give them up and leave themselves exposed. Germany had 12, but it is supplying three to Ukraine. Poland, which borders Ukraine, has two and needs them for its own defenses.

Asked whether his country would provide any, Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson said: “I don’t exclude that possibility, but right now we’re focused on financial contributions.” He said Sweden would send other systems that could “relieve some of the pressure” on the need for Patriots.

Jonson also noted that more US deliveries of air defense systems might come, after the US House of Representatives passed a package over the weekend of $61 billion in support, including $13.8 billion for Ukraine to buy weapons.

Questioned about whether Spain might step up with Patriots, Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said that his country “will make its decisions based on the power it has in its hands to support Ukraine.”

“I don’t think we’re helping anyone if we hear all the time what it is that’s being given, when it’s being given and how it’s getting in,” he told reporters at the meeting in Luxembourg.

NATO keeps track of the stocks of weapons held by its 32 member countries to ensure that they are able to execute the organization’s defense plans in times of need.

But Stoltenberg said on Friday that if dropping below the guidelines is “the only way NATO allies are able to provide Ukraine with the weapons they need to defend themself, well that’s a risk we have to take.”

Beyond providing new Patriot batteries, Stoltenberg said that it’s also important for countries to ensure that the batteries they do send are well maintained, have spare parts and plenty of interceptor missiles.

In a separate development at Monday's meeting, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis expressed concern about possible Russian sabotage against facilities in Europe being used to train Ukrainian troops.

Two German-Russian men were arrested in Germany last week on suspicion of espionage, one of them accused of agreeing to carry out attacks on potential targets including US military facilities, prosecutors said.

“We are witnessing very similar events in our region, not just in Lithuania but also in Latvia and Estonia as well,” Landsbergis told reporters.

“There seems to be a coordinated action against the European countries that is coming from Russia,” he said. “We have to find a way to deal with the threat ... because Russia is fighting not just against Ukraine but the West as well.”



US Renews Warning It’s Obligated to Defend the Philippines after Its New Clash with China at Sea

A dilapidated but still active Philippine Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre sits at the Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin Shoal, at the disputed South China Sea on Aug. 22, 2023. (AP)
A dilapidated but still active Philippine Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre sits at the Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin Shoal, at the disputed South China Sea on Aug. 22, 2023. (AP)
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US Renews Warning It’s Obligated to Defend the Philippines after Its New Clash with China at Sea

A dilapidated but still active Philippine Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre sits at the Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin Shoal, at the disputed South China Sea on Aug. 22, 2023. (AP)
A dilapidated but still active Philippine Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre sits at the Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin Shoal, at the disputed South China Sea on Aug. 22, 2023. (AP)

The United States renewed a warning Tuesday that it’s obligated to defend its close treaty ally a day after Filipino navy personnel were injured and their supply boats damaged in one of the most serious confrontations between the Philippines and China in a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, officials said.

China and the Philippines blamed each other for instigating Monday’s hostilities in the Second Thomas Shoal, which has been occupied by a small Filipino navy contingent aboard a grounded warship that's been closely watched by Chinese coast guard, navy and suspected militia ships in a yearslong territorial standoff. There is fear the disputes, long regarded as an Asian flashpoint, could escalate and pit the United States and China in a larger conflict.

US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell discussed China's actions with Philippine counterpart, Maria Theresa Lazaro, in a telephone call. Both agreed that China’s “dangerous actions threatened regional peace and stability,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

Campbell reaffirmed that the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which obligates Washington and Manila to help defend the other in major conflicts, “extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft – including those of its coast guard – anywhere in the South China Sea,” according to Miller.

A Philippine government task force overseeing the territorial disputes condemned what it said were “dangerous maneuvers, including ramming and towing,” which disrupted a routine effort to transport food, water and other supplies to the Filipinos manning the territorial outpost aboard the BRP Sierra Madre at the shoal.

“Despite the illegal, aggressive, and reckless actions by the Chinese maritime forces, our personnel showed restraint and professionalism, refrained from escalating the tension, and carried on with their mission,” the Philippine task force said without elaborating. “Their actions put at risk the lives of our personnel and damaged our boats in blatant violation of international law.”

The Chinese coast guard said the Philippines “is entirely responsible for this.” It said a Philippine vessel “ignored China’s repeated solemn warnings ... and dangerously approached a Chinese vessel in normal navigation in an unprofessional manner, resulting in a collision."

Two speedboats — attempting to deliver construction materials and other supplies to a military vessel stationed at the shoal — accompanied the supply ship, according to China’s Foreign Ministry, which described its coast guard’s maneuver as “professional, restrained, reasonable and lawful."

Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said Monday night that his country’s armed forces would resist “China’s dangerous and reckless behavior,” which “contravenes their statements of good faith and decency."

“We will exert our utmost in order to fulfill our sworn mandate to protect our territorial integrity, sovereignty, and sovereign rights,” Teodoro said. “It should now be clear to the international community that China’s actions are the true obstacles to peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

Several incidents have happened in recent months near the shoal which lies less than 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from the nearest Philippines coast and where it maintains the Sierra Madre, which had become encrusted with rust since it was deliberately grounded in 1999 but remains an actively commissioned military vessel, meaning an attack on it could be considered by the Philippines as an act of war.

China has increasingly become assertive in pressing its claim to virtually the entire South China Sea, which has led to a rising number of direct conflicts with other countries in the region, most notably the Philippines and Vietnam.

A new law by China, which took effect Saturday, authorizes its coast guard to seize foreign ships “that illegally enter China’s territorial waters” and to detain foreign crews for up to 60 days. The law renewed a reference to 2021 legislation that says China’s coast guard can fire upon foreign ships if necessary.

At least three coastal governments with claims to the waters — the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan — have said they would not recognize the law. Malaysia and Brunei are also involved in the long-seething territorial disputes, which are regarded as a delicate fault line in the longstanding US-China rivalry in the region.