A Turkish defence contractor has agreed to donate the $6 million (£4.7m) armed unmanned drone that Lithuania was crowdfunding in support of Ukraine’s war against Russian invaders.
The donation of the Bayraktar TB2 drone is part of what appears to be a tightening of security and defence ties between Ankara and Vilnius ahead of a critical Nato summit in Madrid later this month.
“It is unbelievable but Turkey just agreed to give the Bayraktar that Lithuania gathered money for free!” Lithuania defence minister Arvydas Anusauskas wrote Thursday in a tweet sprinkled with capital letters, exclamation points and emojis.
The millions raised so far as part of a Lithuanian journalist’s campaign to buy the drone would be spent on buying precision missiles for the unmanned aerial vehicle and providing other support for Ukraine, he wrote.
The weapon, produced by Istanbul-based Baykar Technologies, has been made famous by its effective use by Ukrainian forces against the invading Russians. A photo released Thursday showed Mr Anusauskas’ deputy Vilius Semaska posing next to a Bayraktar TB2 alongside Baykar top executives Haluk and Selcuk Bayraktar, a son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“The people of Lithuania have honourably raised funds to buy a Bayraktar TB2 for Ukraine,” Baykar said in a statement. “Upon learning this, Baykar will gift a Bayraktar TB2 to Lithuania free of charge and asks those funds go to Ukraine for humanitarian aid.”
Television journalist and activist Andrius Tapinas raised the money in three-and-a-half days, mostly with donations of less than £50, according to a press release.
“We are also delivering a powerful challenge for every European,” Mr Tapinas was quoted as saying in the press announcement. “Put pressure on your stars, your businesses, and your politicians, by asking them: why can’t we do the same [that] this crazy country has done in just a few days.”
News about Turkey’s donation of the drone came a day after Mr Semaska signed a deal that would pave the way for cooperation with Turkey’s Defence Industry Agency, which oversees the country’s arms industry. By law, Ankara must approve any arms exports.
“The acquisition of combat drones is in the plans, possibly a Bayraktar, too,” Mr Anusaskas told reporters on Tuesday, declining to elaborate on specific purchases. “What previously seemed unconvincing or inappropriate for our conditions is changing, and attitudes are changing.
The two Nato countries will both attend a potentially contentious 29 June summit in Madrid where the military alliance will decide on steps ahead in allowing Sweden and Finland into the bloc.
Turkey has opposed entry by the two long-neutral countries over their alleged support for autonomy-minded Kurdish organisations that Ankara considers a security threat.
Lithuania, like the other two Baltic states Estonia and Latvia, is gaining influence and prominence as among the most outspoken and active members of the ad hoc coalition backing Ukraine against Russian invaders. All three former Soviet republics are among the top five donors to Ukraine by percentage of GDP.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan held a call with counterparts from the Baltic states, all historically menaced by various Moscow rulers, in which he “underscored the ironclad US commitment to Nato’s Article 5,” which would trigger alliance-wide intervention in any attack on a member, according to a White House press release, Newsleaflets reports