Aid from the UK cements it as one of Ukraine’s top partners
Plans are afoot for a tripartite alliance between the United Kingdom, Poland, and Ukraine, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said last week amid the Kremlin’s continued military buildup on Ukraine’s border.
And earlier last week, Kyiv also received defensive military aid, including thousands of light anti-tanks weapons to counteract Russian aggression. Thirty British elite soldiers also arrived in Ukraine to train local military personnel.
The UK’s aid is seen as particularly valuable by Ukrainians after they were let down by Germany, which has practically blocked arms sales to Ukraine. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba expressed his extreme disappointment with Berlin’s stance and said Ukrainians “would remember this (the German refusal to supply arms) for decades to come.”.
NV looks into how the United Kingdom is becoming one of Ukraine’s few key allies in a building confrontation with Moscow.
Diplomatic and military partnership
In October 2020, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky came to London on an official visit, during which he met UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Andriy Taran, the Ukrainian Defense Minister at the time, had an equally significant meeting with his UK counterpart Ben Wallace, during which the United Kingdom and Ukraine signed a memorandum to enhance their military and industrial partnership. Under this newly signed agreement, the United Kingdom would provide Ukraine with a loan of $1.6 billion, and help Ukraine boost its naval capabilities.
“How does the U.K. stand out among other Ukraine’s allies?,” NV asked Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Vadym Prystayko.
“They supply us with military aid, which we always need,” Prystayko said. “Over the years, the UK has successfully trained 25,000 Ukrainian officers. A young Ukrainian has recently been honored as the best cadet at the Royal Military Academy. There are 12 cadets currently in training in the UK – they are the future elites of the Ukrainian army and navy.”
Prystayko recalled how on June 23, 2021 the British warship HMS Defender was challenged by Russia when it was sailing through international waters close to the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula. The incident showed that London still sees Crimea as Ukrainian territory.
The partnership between the United Kingdom and Ukraine is not limited to military affairs. In early December, Kuleba and Truss agreed to draw up a plan to simplify travel regulations for the citizens of both countries.
In light of Moscow’s continued military buildup on Ukraine’s borders, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the United Kingdom would continue to use economic and diplomatic instruments to deter Russia.
On Saturday, the UK government made the claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin was looking to install a puppet government in Ukraine headed by pro-Russian politicians. This, in itself, was not sensational. What was, was the reveal of who would allegedly head this puppet government – a minor, failed politician named Yevhen Murayev, who had been a part of the discredited Party of Regions, then joined the PoR’s successor, Opposition Bloc and For Life, before founding his own party, Nashi. During the 2019 parliamentary elections in Ukraine, Nashi failed to overcome the electoral barrier of 5% and won no seats in parliament.
The UK foreign office also alleged that Russia had been working with a number of former officials from the former government of fugitive Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, such as former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, former Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Arbuzov, former First Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Klyuev, and former head of Ukraine’s SBU security service, Volodymyr Syvkovych. All four are currently in exile in Russia and under international sanctions.
UK officials explained that this calculated release of what they deemed ‘sensitive intelligence data’ was meant to foil the budding puppet plot and send a warning to Putin, U.S. newspaper The New York Times reported.
Not to be outdone, the United States also released a statement saying they could confirm the UK’s intelligence – which is unsurprising given the closeness between the two nations intelligence apparatus’ as part of the 5 Eyes group of intelligence-sharing nations.
Ukraine’s Office of the President, following on these sensational allegations from some of Ukraine’s most important partners, said that they were committed to take the UK claims seriously – even if Murayev has not yet faced sanctions or even questioning over the allegations by Ukrainian law enforcement.
The release of this information is part of a concerted strategy for the United Kingdom to become a key player in the confrontation between democratic Europe and Russia.
Murayev himself responded to the claims by saying that the Kremlin “has their own candidate and they are quite open about it,” possibly referring to media oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, the leader of the PoR successor Opposition Platform - For Life party, who is currently under house arrest on charges of treason against the Ukrainian state. Putin is rumored to be godfather to one of Medvedchuk daughters.
“The U.K. is differentiating itself from Germany and France, and to some extent, even the U.S.,” Malcolm Chalmers, the deputy director general of the Royal United Services Institute, told the NYT.
“That comes out of Brexit, and the sense that we have to define ourselves as an independent middle power.”
Britain’s Response to Moscow
At this very moment, the United Kingdom is drafting a bill which will enable London to impose tough sanctions on Russia if Putin invades Ukraine. The UK has also sent high-profile ministers to other NATO members threatened by Russia. Apart from that, London has engaged in a direct dialogue with Moscow, and in the next few weeks, the UK and Russian Foreign and Defense Ministers are set to meet for talks on the Ukrainian situation, informs the NYT.
Dame Karen Pierce, UK ambassador to the United States, said that the United Kingdom would always “push back on Russia’s bad behavior.”
“Where the Russians are concerned, you’ll always find the United Kingdom at the forward end of the spectrum.”
Pierce told the NYT that London’s sanctions could deal a devastating blow to Russia’s economy.
“Sanctions can be very painful,” British financial analyst Yuri Bender told BBC News Ukraine.
“The West can cut Russia from the SWIFT payment system, close down Nord Stream-2, ban Russians from using eurobonds on the London and New York stock markets and freeze Russian oligarchs’ assets in London, New York and Zurich,” though so far, these options have only been present in theory.
Alongside the intelligence release allegedly unmasking Moscow’s plot to install a puppet government in Ukraine, Downing Street also issued a press-release practically stating that Johnson would lead an anti-Russian alliance, reports The Guardian.
According to No. 10’s press release, Johnson, though in severe political trouble and possibly facing an ouster by the party he leads, the Conservatives, is deeply engaged in the situation on Ukraine’s border. Johnson is briefed on the crisis on a daily basis, and has reportedly amped up the UK response to Russia’s aggression, while also being ready to engage with Putin directly.
The release also mentioned the close personal friendship between Johnson and President Zelensky, and the significant number of calls that Johnson has supposedly made to other world leaders.
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