Ned Price on US transfer of Crete's S-300s to Ukraine: "Each country decides for itself"


State Department spokesman Ned Price made it clear during his regular briefing to journalists that the delivery of defence systems to Ukraine is a decision that concerns the country that owns them. However, he was quick to clarify that in many cases the United States is willing to offer trade-offs.

Responding to a question from the Hellas Journal regarding the possible shipment of the S-300 in Crete to Ukraine and their replacement by the American-made Patriot system, Price emphasised that it is up to “individual countries when it comes to any contributions that they may be or are making to Ukraine’s self-defence."

"But we certainly recognise the profound threat that Ukraine faces from the air. Our NATO Allies – Greece, of course, included – recognise that as well.

"It’s always a topic of discussion when we speak to our Ukrainian partners regarding what they need to protect their people, to protect their country, from the air. "It was a target – excuse me. It was a topic of discussion in Bucharest at the NATO ministerial late last month.

"And so we’re continuing to look at ways, together with our allies and partners, to best and most effectively help Ukraine protect its people, protect its population, to protect its broader infrastructure from these sorts of attacks.

"Each country is going to have to decide for itself what it is able and to prepare – and prepared to provide to Ukraine. We certainly appreciate the many ways the international community, including Greece, has demonstrated their support and has stepped up.

"There have been times – and sometimes we’ve pointed to these publicly; you may remember that in the early days of this conflict, Slovakia made the decision to provide an S-300 air defense system to Ukraine. We were able to help support and to facilitate that contribution by backfilling Slovakia’s needs.

"There are some cases where countries do this and we don’t talk about it as publicly.

"But we are looking at ways, whether it is through directly providing security assistance to Ukraine – the some $20 billion that we have provided since the start of this administration – or in some cases what we can do, what we can provide to other countries so they in turn can provide their wares and their supplies to Ukraine."

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Greece's willingness to transfer the S-300 to Ukraine if it receives Patriot missiles systems are provocative and stressed that all military equipment sent to Kyiv will be destroyed by the Russian armed forces.

Greek Defence Minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos said on Sunday that the country's government is ready to send S-300 air defense systems from Crete to Ukraine if the US "installs the Patriot system in their place."

Zakharova said that Russia considers Greece's "provocative plans to supply the Kyiv regime with the S-300 and other Russian/Soviet air defense systems openly hostile to Russia."

"This would be a flagrant violation of the provisions of the Russian-Greek intergovernmental agreements on military-technical cooperation of October 30, 1995, and on the supply of military products of December 3, 2013, which unambiguously prohibit Greece from re-exporting the military equipment supplied by Moscow to a third party without Russia's consent," she continued.

The spokeswoman also emphasised that the violation of contractual obligations will have inevitable consequences... "not to mention the significant weakening of the Greek defence capability in the field of air defence."

"Finally, no one should have any doubts that all military equipment sent to Kyiv will be detected and destroyed in a timely manner by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. Before it's too late, you can abandon risky plans. Once again we warn the Greek leadership of the responsibility".

Earlier, Zakharova also said that Moscow is warning the United States in advance that if Patriot air defense systems are sent to Ukraine, they, along with their personnel, will become legitimate targets of Russia.

Ukraine would welcome the addition of Greece's S-300s, even though it's acquiring the much more advanced Patriot. After all, Kyiv has plenty of experience operating S-300s, so it could immediately press the Greek system into service since it won't require any additional training or technical assistance.

On December 1, Ukrainian Defense Minister Olekssi Reznikov said Ukraine is "currently negotiating with the defense ministers of all countries that have S-300s in service regarding the possibility of replenishing stocks of missiles from their warehouses and arsenals."

Those negotiations could have led Greece to consider supplying its S-300s for the first time, Forbes reported.

Whatever the case, Panagiotopoulos' latest statement is undoubtedly a complete turnabout from when, in June, he said, "Greece will not be sending the S-300 weapons systems. What we need, what is useful, and mainly operationally active, we do not intend to release."

His choice of words was interesting. After all, Greece only came into possession of its S-300s by chance back in the late 1990s.

It was Cyprus that had initially ordered the Russian system, sparking a tense standoff with Turkey. To avert a possible war, the batteries were instead diverted to Crete and remained in storage until Greece test-fired some for the first time in 2013.

In late August, Turkey claimed that a Greek S-300 radar locked onto its F-16s as they were conducting a reconnaissance mission in international airspace. If true, that incident suggests Athens was testing the systems again or even putting them into active service amidst growing tensions with Turkey in the Aegean Sea.

In his latest statement, Panagiotopoulos clarified that Greece doesn't aim to obtain a new Patriot. Athens merely wants an American system deployed on Crete, "which means that the Patriot system will be under the control of the Americans."

Athens may also have concluded that having an American-operated Patriot deployed on Crete could prove advantageous during recurring tensions with Turkey. Athens already hopes its deepening defence cooperation with Washington will help deter Ankara.

A deployment of a U.S. Patriot on Crete would aptly symbolize that close cooperation between the two allied NATO militaries, especially since the U.S. hasn't deployed Patriots in Turkey for years now. The United States would welcome Greece offloading its S-300s and other Russian-made weaponry.

READ MORE: Eurobarometer: Greece has the lowest support for Ukraine in the EU.