The former head of the British Army has condemned a decision to deliver dozens of redundant British military armoured vehicles to the Ukranian government as “nothing short of immoral”.
General Sir Richard Dannatt, who served as Chief of the Defence Staff between 2006 and 2009, said the Saxon armoured vehicles, which the Ukranian military are planning to convert for use in their fight against Russian-backed separatist forces – are “quite useless”.
Ukranian sources said that 20 Saxons have been delivered to Ukraine, with another 55 expected to arrive soon.
Although the Ministry of Defence would not confirm the figures, it said the vehicles, which were transferred to the Ukranians under a 2013 deal which predates the current conflict, were not equipped with lethal weapons.
It insisted the delivery did not represent an escalation of British involvement in Ukraine.
But Gen Sir Richard, who acted as David Cameron’s defence adviser between November 2009 and the general election in May 2010, said the vehicles should not have been transferred to the Ukranians in the first place, as they were not fit for purpose.
He told The Telegraph: “I took these out of service by the UK Army in 2005/6 as completely unsuitable for current operations, so I find it incredible that they are being sold/gifted to Ukraine. I am incensed by the thought we are supplying, even via a 3rd party, SAXON APCs to the hapless Ukrainians.
“They are quite useless, semi-armoured lorries that should be nowhere near anyone’s front line."
He said that it was "nothing short of immoral” to present the transfer of the vehicles as a "good news story" for the Ukranians.
Gen Sir Richard added:"My concern is the inadequate nature of these vehicles which I ordered out of British Army front line service when I was Commander in Chief Land Command 2005-2006. They were withdrawn from Iraq and never deployed in southern Afghanistan.
"To suggest that the UK is making a significant gesture of support by supplying vehicles which we took out of service ten years ago, because we deemed them unsafe, seems bizarre at best and downright dangerous at worst."
The Ukranian authorities have made it clear they fully intend to use the vehicles in their struggle against the separatists.
Oleksander Turchynov, Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) Secretary said during a visit to the National Guards Training Center that although the armoured vehicles need some readjustment they would be adapted for the Ukrainian army.
He said: “These Saxons arrived without any armament, we will mount arms which should provide efficient firing cover for the National Guard or other units to which they will be supplied.”
Mr Turchynov added that the vehicles would enter service in the Ukrainian army as soon as they had been tested at a training range.
A MoD spokeswoman said the sale had been organised for some time through the Disposal Services authority, which deals with obsolete military equipment.
She said: “As the foreign secretary has made clear, our policy since the beginning of the crisis has been to supply non-lethal assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. There has been no change to this and we have not provided lethal assistance.
“These vehicles were provided unarmed under a commercial contract, dating to 2013, by a private company. They offer protective mobility to personnel, and are defensive in nature; they are not close combat vehicles.”
Thousands of people have died in almost a year of fighting in the region.
A new ceasefire deal for eastern Ukraine brokered to end the conflict between the Ukrainian army and the rebels is set to begin at midnight on Saturday.
The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has warned Russia will face fresh sanctions from the EU if the deal is not fully implemented,
She said EU leaders had asked officials to prepare further sanctions in case an agreed ceasefire was not respected. The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France reached the ceasefire agreement on Thursday, after lengthy talks in Belarus.
Pro-Russian rebels have signed the deal, which also includes weapon withdrawals and prisoner exchanges.
However key issues remain to be settled and clashes between government forces and the rebels continued on Thursday, with one Russian-backed commander said his forces would not stop fighting.