New Zealand to train Ukrainian troops
New Zealand announced on Monday that a small number of its soldiers will be flying to the UK to train Ukrainian artillery crews, thereby also serving to confirm the rumor that London is preparing to send Kiev its own L119 light howitzers.
Some 30 New Zealand Army personnel will stay in Britain through the end of July for the training mission, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern explained. Wellington has already spent about 15.7 million NZ dollars (approximately $10 million) on aiding Kiev, including donations of military equipment and intelligence support using commercial satellite assets.
A total of 230 Ukrainian troops are scheduled to take the training course, with each session expected to last about a week, said Air Marshal Kevin Short, chief of the New Zealand Defence Force.
While the authorities in Wellington did not say where the L119s will be coming from, Ukrainian media reported that the UK will be providing the 105-millimeter towed artillery pieces. The light howitzer can be towed or carried in slings by helicopters.
There has been no official word on the quantity of the guns, but the number of soldiers trained by the New Zealand instructors would be enough for almost 40 crews. It is also possible the Ukrainians flown to the UK for instruction will be expected to train others at home, the way the US has done with the training program for its M777 howitzers.
Ukraine’s ambassador in Wellington has been demanding that New Zealand do more to assist his government – as has former defense minister Ron Mark, who recently visited Ukraine. Ardern herself noted that howitzer training was more useful than having politicians visit “in the middle of a war,” the New Zealand Herald reported.
Russia attacked Ukraine in late February, following Kiev's failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered protocols were designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.
The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.