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European countries with Patriot missiles are reluctant to give them to Ukraine

Many in Europe believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not stop invading Ukraine if he wins the war there.

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BRUSSELS – European Union countries that have Patriot air defense systems gave no clear signal Monday whether they would supply them to Ukraine, which is desperately seeking at least seven of the missile batteries to fend off Russian air attacks.

Russia’s air force is far more powerful than Ukraine’s, but advanced missile systems from Kiev’s Western partners could pose a major threat as Kremlin forces slowly advance along the war’s roughly 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) frontline.

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Only Germany has come forward with a single Patriot missile battery in response to Ukraine’s latest request.

At a meeting of EU foreign and defense ministers, Dutch Foreign Minister Hanke Bruins Slot said the Netherlands is “currently looking at every option” and providing financial support to a German initiative to help Ukraine strengthen its air defenses and more drones.

When asked why the Netherlands is reluctant to send some of its Patriot systems, Slot said: “We are looking again at whether we can deplete our stock of what we still have, but that will be difficult.”

Last week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the military organization “has identified existing capabilities within the alliance and that there are systems that can be made available to Ukraine.” He did not name the countries that patriots own.

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 launch system with eight launchers, each capable of containing up to four missile interceptors, a ground-based radar, a control station and a generator.

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

But patriotism takes a long time to develop – as much as two years, some estimates suggest – so countries are reluctant to give them up and expose themselves. Germany had twelve, but now supplies three to Ukraine. Poland, which borders Ukraine, has two and needs them for its own defense.

Asked whether his country would provide it, Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson said: “I don’t rule out that possibility, but at the moment we are focusing 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 U.S. deliveries of air defense systems could come after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $61 billion package in aid this weekend, including $13.8 billion for Ukraine to buy weapons.

Asked whether Spain could join the patriots, Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said his country “will make its decisions based on the power it has in its hands to support Ukraine.”

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“I don’t think we are helping anyone if we constantly hear what is given, when it is given and how it comes in,” he said at the meeting in Luxembourg.

Reporters repeatedly asked EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the talks, why countries appear so reluctant to step forward. Many in Europe believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not stop invading Ukraine if he wins the war there.

Borrell said the EU itself does not possess Patriot missile systems. “The Patriots are in the capitals and it is up to them to make the decisions,” he said. “Now everything has been said and much remains to be done.”

NATO maintains the weapons stockpiles of its 32 member states to ensure they can implement the organization’s defense plans in times of need.

But Stoltenberg said Friday that if falling under the guidelines is “the only way NATO allies can provide Ukraine with the weapons they need to defend themselves, then that is a risk we have to take.”

In addition to supplying new Patriot batteries, Stoltenberg said it is also important that countries ensure that the batteries they send are well maintained and have spare parts and enough interceptor missiles.

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

Two German-Russian men were arrested in Germany last week on suspicion of espionage. One of them was accused of agreeing to carry out attacks on potential targets, including U.S. military facilities, prosecutors said. The US has a number of military bases in Germany.

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

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

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