U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrived in Ukraine Friday, armed with extra military cash — and a bilateral promise to come to Ukraine’s defense in the face of future aggression.
On a surprise trip to the embattled country, Sunak said the U.K. would provide a total of £2.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine in the 2024/25 financial year, an increase of £200 million on the previous two years.
And he brandished a bilateral defense deal — the U.K.-Ukraine Agreement on Security Cooperation — that marked a genuine first among G7 allies of Ukraine.
No.10 Downing Street said the pact would give the country “the assurances it needs for the long term” — but it prompted immediate saber-rattling from Russia, and questions about just how much it really means as fresh help from the U.S. remains snarled in Congress.
Sunak’s trip comes amid signs of wavering support for Kyiv internationally. But, speaking alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at a press conference Friday afternoon, the British prime minister gave backing for Ukraine the hard sell.
“For the free nations of the world, aid to Ukraine is also an investment in our own collective security,” he said.
“Because if Putin wins in Ukraine, he will not stop there and our opponents around the world believe we have neither the patience nor resources for long wars.
“So waver now and we embolden not just Putin — but his allies in North Korea, Iran and elsewhere.”
Sunak, who was given the symbolic Order of Freedom by Zelenskyy in a sign of the two countries’ close ties, pledged that at least £200 million of the funding from the U.K. would be spent on a major push to rapidly procure and produce thousands of drones for Ukraine, including surveillance, long-range strike and sea drones.
It would be the largest delivery of drones to Ukraine from any nation, according to a statement by No. 10 Downing Street, with most expected to be manufactured in the U.K.
‘Stability and predictability’
But it was the security agreement signed by the two leaders which generated the most pushback from Russia. It commits the U.K. to provide “swift and sustained” assistance for Ukraine’s defense, should Russia attack the country again.
According to No. 10, the agreement “formalizes a range of support the U.K. has been [providing] and will continue to provide for Ukraine’s security, including intelligence sharing, cyber security, medical and military training, and defense industrial cooperation.”
G7 nations agreed to provide Ukraine with bilateral security assurances at last year’s NATO summit in Vilnius — and Sunak’s move ups the ante for others to follow suit.
But, writing on Telegram, Dmitry Medvedev — the former Russian president who is now deputy head of the country’s Security Council — said he hoped “our eternal enemies, the arrogant Brits, understand that the deployment of their official military contingent in Ukraine will mean a declaration of war on our country.”
Neil Melvin, director of international security at London-based defense think tank RUSI, said the U.K. move was significant in that the country is now the first to “formalize and conclude” a long-term, one-to-one security promise for Ukraine.
“It’s a 10-year framework, which is designed to give a kind of stability and predictability on security and defense support for Ukraine,” he said. That would, he argued, allow Ukraine “to be clear with Russia that it enjoys long-term support from the Euro-Atlantic community.” Sunak’s move Friday is, he said, an attempt to “keep the momentum going” and put pressure on the rest of Europe to follow suit.
But Melvin stressed that there are clear limits to what British promises can achieve while the United States Congress continues to hold out on extra cash for Ukraine’s fight-back.
“The real problem at the moment is that there is no substitute for U.S. support,” Melvin warned. “So whatever the U.K. is able to give, if this money doesn’t come through Congress, then Ukrainians are really going to be in great difficulty because the Europeans are just not in a position to fill that gap.”
Ukraine, which has long been pushing for the bigger security guarantee of NATO membership, nevertheless welcomed the British move Friday.
Ihor Zhovkva, deputy head of the president’s office said in a statement that the U.K. had “once again demonstrated its leadership position” by becoming the first country to make good on the G7 declaration.
“Now the process of concluding bilateral agreements on providing security guarantees to Ukraine should be much more dynamic,” he said.
Zhovkva added: “This is a new reference point and a new level of strategic partnership — on the way to a century-long partnership … Ukraine no longer has to ask for help and weapons, but will receive them automatically, both in the case of a new aggression and in the case of an aggravation of the current one.”