'Message to the world': Lithuanians club together to buy drone for Ukraine

A Bayraktar TB2 in Azerbaijan on May 27. Ukraine has bought more than 20 Bayraktar TB2 armed drones in recent years. PHOTO: REUTERS

VILNIUS (REUTERS) - Hundreds of Lithuanians are clubbing together to buy an advanced military drone for Ukraine in its war against Russia, in a show of solidarity with a fellow country formerly under Moscow's rule.

Some €3 million (S$4.4 million) have been raised in just three days - out of the €5 million needed - largely in small amounts, according to Laisves TV, a Lithuanian internet broadcaster that launched the drive.

"Before this war started, none of us thought that we would be buying guns. But it's a normal thing now. Something must be done for the world to get better," said Ms Agne Belickaite, 32, who sent €100 as soon as the fundraising launched on Wednesday.

"I've been donating to buy guns for Ukraine for a while now. And will do so until the victory," she told Reuters, adding she was motivated in part by fears Russia could attack Lithuania.

The drone has proven effective in recent years against Russian forces and their allies in conflicts in Syria and Libya, and its purchase is being orchestrated by Lithuania's Ministry of Defence, which told Reuters it planned to sign a letter of intent to buy the craft from Turkey next week.

Ukraine has bought more than 20 Bayraktar TB2 armed drones from Turkish company Baykar in recent years and ordered a further 16 on Jan. 27. That batch was delivered in early March.

"This is the first case in history when ordinary people raise money to buy something like a Bayraktar. It is unprecedented, it is unbelievable," Mr Beshta Petro, Ukraine's ambassador to Lithuania, told Laisves TV.

Most of the heavy weapons that Nato countries have sent to Ukraine so far are Soviet-built arms still in the inventories of eastern European Nato member states, but some have recently started to supply Western howitzers.

"While governments of the world's largest countries are endlessly deliberating... Lithuanian society simply comes together and, you know, is about to fundraise €5 million and buy the drone - which is an impressive message to the world," said Ms Belickaite.

Separately, The US Army said on Friday (May 27) it has awarded a contract worth US$625 million (S$860 million) to Raytheon Technologies Corp for anti-aircraft Stinger missiles in order to replenish stocks sent to Ukraine.

The shoulder-fired anti-aircraft Stinger missiles made by Raytheon were in hot demand in Ukraine, where they have successfully stopped Russian assaults from the air, and in neighbouring European countries which fear they may also need to beat back Russian forces.

US troops have limited use for the current supply of Stingers - a lightweight, self-contained weapon that can be deployed quickly to defend against helicopters, airplanes, drones and even cruise missiles - but the United States needs to maintain its supply on hand while it develops the next generation of a "man-portable air defence system."

Since February, the United States has shipped about 1,400 Stingers to Ukraine. US allies also want to restock the weapons they shipped to Ukraine in recent months.

The contract for up to 1,468 Stingers was awarded on Wednesday, according to a document reviewed by Reuters, and was worth up to US$687 million with options added in. There was no timeline for completion of the work, but it was estimated delivery could take up to 30 months.

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