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In policy shift, Berlin to deliver defensive weapons to Ukraine

(Reuters) -Germany will supply Ukraine with defensive anti-tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles and ammunition, the government said on Saturday, in a shift of policy as Russia’s forces continued to pound Kyiv and other cities on day three of its campaign.

FILE PHOTO: A Ukrainian serviceman holds a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher at fighting positions outside the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Maksim Levin

After facing criticism for refusing to send weapons to Kyiv, unlike other Western allies, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Berlin will supply Ukraine with 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger surface-to-air missiles from Bundeswehr stocks.

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine marks a turning point. It is our duty to do our best to support Ukraine in defending itself against Putin’s invading army,” Scholz said on Twitter.

Berlin also approved the delivery of 400 RPGs from the Netherlands and a request by Estonia to pass on old GDR howitzers to Ukraine. Finland had bought the howitzers in the 90s after the fall of the Berlin wall, and later re-sold them to Estonia.

Germany has a long-standing policy of not exporting weapons to war zones, rooted partly in its bloody 20th-century history and resulting pacifism. Countries aiming to pass on German weapons exports need to apply for approval in Berlin first.

Scholz had repeatedly referred to this policy in recent weeks when refusing to deliver lethal weapons to Ukraine.

Saturday’s announcement was received well in Kyiv. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Twitter: “Keep it up, Chancellor @OlafScholz! Anti-war coalition in action!”

Kyiv’s ambassador to Germany had earlier on Saturday urged Berlin to join the Netherlands and supply Ukraine with Stinger air defence rockets.

“Damn it, it’s finally time to help us,” Andriy Melnyk told Reuters in an interview at the Ukrainian embassy.

“We need air defence and we need a no fly zone,” Melnyk said.

Earlier on Saturday, the Dutch government said in a letter to parliament that it will supply 200 air defence rockets to Ukraine as quickly as possible.

Germany’s offer in late January to supply 5,000 military helmets to Ukraine to help defend against a potential Russian invasion was dismissed by Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko as “a joke”. Berlin has also handed over a field hospital to Kyiv.

Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Andreas Rinke, Riham Alkousaa, Oliver Ellrodt; Editing by John Chalmers, Ros Russell and Christina Fincher