Every day for the last two weeks the Royal Air Force has been running flights to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, each plane loaded with defensive and support equipment for the country’s armed forces. So far the air convoy of C-17s has delivered short range anti-tank rockets, and other defensive equipment. To the British public it may be an event happening in a far-flung place, but to the Ukrainian people these planes are delivering renewed hope in the struggle for the independence.
The British commitment to supporting Ukraine extends well beyond the recently delivered defensive equipment. Since 2015, around 100 British servicemen have been based in the country offering training support. This has included offering medical training, expertise on countering improvised explosive devices, engineering, and operational planning.
In October 2020 the British and Ukrainian governments signed a memorandum of understanding on supporting the rebuilding of the navy. Ukraine will, as a result, purchase two refurbished minesweeping ships and will receive assistance in the delivery of new frigates. The UK has also committed to supporting the expansion of naval bases in the Black Sea, and the delivery of new missile and airborne capabilities. This support is vital for Ukraine, after Russia took over 75 per cent of the nation’s navy as well as its main base in Sevastopol.
The United Kingdom has so far gone further than any Western European nation in offering tangible military support to Ukraine. Neither Germany nor France has shown much of a commitment to the Eastern European nation, in most cases expressing their fear at antagonising Russia.
Britain sees support of Ukraine as a moral duty. Like Ukraine, Britain has been the target of Russian aggression in the past – from the string of assassinations carried out against the Russian diaspora in England, to the harassment of a British naval ship in the Black Sea. But even beyond our common adversary, there is a duty to promote freedom and democracy around the world.
Ukraine has struggled to maintain its own independent identity for more than 30 years since breaking away from the Soviet Union. With each passing year, the Kremlin has plotted to undermine the nation – through rigged elections, incitement amongst the Russian minority, and the total annexation of Crimea. The last eight years have seen the situation worsen with the invasion of Crimea and the Donbas in the aftermath of the so called ‘Revolution of Dignity’ in 2014 – named as it was seen as a final break from the Russian sphere in pursuit of the country’s euro-Atlantic future.
Britain has been at the forefront of supporting Ukraine throughout – along with our allies from the Baltic States, and Poland. Britain has also been in a position to support Ukraine, and those other allies, through the sales of weapons and by providing expertise on the grounds.
Our support to the region doesn’t stop with Ukraine. In recent months the UK has sent the engineers corps to Poland to support the government in setting up a border fence with Belarus, amid the ongoing weaponisation of migration by Minsk. British aircraft patrol the skies above Romania and Bulgaria. At the same time, the UK has had troops permanently based in Estonia and Poland as part of NATO’s advanced forward presence – a defensive and deterrence force established in 2016 after the Warsaw Summit.
Britain has set itself up as the new Arsenal of Democracy, arming her allies in the fight to defend freedom, sovereignty, and the international order. The UK takes the mantel from the United States, who since President Franklin D Roosevelt, has fulfilled the role of arming the democratic world in defence against tyranny.
Britain’s defence of Central and Eastern Europe was pivotal to its position inside the EU, and with Brexit, is becoming just as important outside. This support is based on mutual respect, of treating each nation as equals. A view that is not shared by the governing elites in France and Germany, who persistently take a paternalistic view of the region. They see the countries of Central and Eastern Europe as young nations that need to be told what to do, a view that has in recent years translated into EU policy.
Indeed, the unwillingness of Germany and France to provide defensive capabilities to Ukraine, or to take robust measures against the Russian regime, is representative of this naïve view. While they don’t have to live with the day to struggles of sharing a frontier with a hostile power, the democracies of Central and Eastern Europe do. It is because of that distance that both Paris and Berlin are willing to give ground to Moscow – especially when their energy supply depends on it.
It thus falls on Britain to be the sole voice in Western Europe that stands up for these nations, as it always has, and it as it always will. And with each flight that arrives carrying support in the defence of freedom, Britain further cements herself as the new Arsenal of Democracy.