Germany offers Ukraine helmets, Kyiv's Klitschko 'speechless'

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BERLIN, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Germany will supply 5,000 military helmets to Ukraine to help defend against a possible Russian invasion, it said on Wednesday - an offer Kyiv mayor and former world champion boxer Vitali Klitschko dismissed as "a joke" that left him "speechless".

Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said Berlin, which has faced growing criticism of its refusal to supply arms to Ukraine as other Western countries have done, was responding to a request for military equipment, specifically helmets.

British Defence Minister Ben Wallace said he was not judging others' decisions.

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"Obviously the United Kingdom has taken a view that lethal aid of a tactical defensive nature is something that the Ukrainians need. But we're not sitting in judgement over other countries," he said during a visit to Berlin.

Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops near its border with Ukraine but denies planning to attack its neighbour. The United States and Britain have started sending more arms to Ukraine.

"The German government is agreed that we do not send lethal weapons to crisis areas because we don't want to fuel the situation, we want to contribute in other ways," said Lambrecht at a joint news conference with Wallace.

She added that Germany was also supplying a field hospital to Ukraine and was still aiming for a peaceful solution.

'SYMBOLIC GESTURE'

Klitschko, a former world heavyweight boxing champion who lived for years in Germany and is now mayor of the Ukrainian capital, was unimpressed with the offer of helmets.

"The behaviour of the German government leaves me speechless. The defence ministry apparently hasn't realized that we are confronted with perfectly equipped Russian forces that can start another invasion of Ukraine at any time," he told top-selling Bild daily.

"What kind of support will Germany send next?" he joked. "Pillows?"

Ukraine's ambassador to Berlin, Andriy Melnyk, said the "symbolic gesture" was welcome but inadequate as his country needed equipment for hundreds of thousands of soldiers, of which helmets were not the most urgently needed part.

"We are glad that we can see at least the beginning of a change in thinking," he told Reuters. "However, what we need the most are defensive weapons."

Wallace made clear that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline could be an important tool to use against Russia. Germany has stopped short of explicitly saying it would scrap the pipeline, due to transport Russian gas to Europe, in the event of an invasion.

"If (Russian President Vladimir) Putin chooses to invade Ukraine ... he should not be rewarded by Europe funding him any further. And what he does with the revenues of gas is he funds his military," said Wallace.

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Reporting by Paul Carrel, Sabine Siebold, Andreas Rinke and Kylie MacLellan and William James in London, Writing by Zuzanna Szymanska and Madeline Chambers; Editing by Catherine Evans and Alex Richardson

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