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Military briefing: how the UK took a vanguard role on arms for Ukraine

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Standing in Westminster Hall, the oldest building in the British Parliament, Volodymyr Zelensky demonstrated his usual skill at crafting persuasive phrases. “Give me wings to protect it… wings to freedom!”

This was a typical eloquent plea, but this time it’s for fighters, a long-standing item in Kyiv Wishlist for Western Military AidIt was also effective: Almost immediately, Downing Street said Defense Secretary Ben Wallace was considering jets the UK might be able to give to Ukraine.

The announcement about fighter jets is just the latest example of what the UK sees as a pioneering role for Kyiv in providing military aid, followed by similar actions from other allies.

In some cases, British support is of military importance, such as the British expansion of basic infantry training. Thousands of Ukrainian troops last yearAt times it was more diplomatic, like the modern tanks Britain promised in mid-January.

Britain’s decision to send 14 Challenger 2s last month isn’t a significant number militarily, but Germany and the US agreed to send their own main battle tanks, the Leopard 2 and the M1 Abrams. It set a precedent.Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands also announced supplies this week Old Leopard 1 model 178 tank.

Volodymyr Zelensky from Lulworth. The Ukrainian president used a visit to Britain to urge his allies to send fighter jets to the war-torn country © PA

“British aid was both symbolic and real,” said Ben Barry, a former British Army brigadier general at the think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, who said Britain was the first to send Ukraine the latest anti-tank missile. said by quoting He was mass-attacked in January 2022, before Russia launched its full-scale invasion.

“But all sides in this conflict are trying to shape the narrative – and the UK has done it more than anyone else,” added Barry.

Some of Britain’s hawkish military approaches can be seen as opportunistic and aimed at domestic audiences.Prime Minister Rishi Sunak boosts UK economy amid industrial action season I’m having a hard time with

“Johnson credits Ukraine. He said .

As Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd memorably put it in 1993, the post-Brexit UK is a defender of global liberties and still sees itself as a country “attacking beyond its weight”. Some of the stances are for broader international purposes, as they are trying to express.

“With regard to Ukraine, there is no doubt that the UK has played an important leading role,” said a senior European defense official.

But much of Britain’s hawkish approach goes beyond day-to-day politics and is institutionally embedded in the British Armed Forces, Ministry of Defense and Intelligence, which, alongside the United States, were among the first to warn of Russian aggression. .

A defense official cites the fact that Sunak’s first trip abroad as prime minister was to Kyiv with Admiral Tony Radakin, the head of the British military. I definitely had a great time,” said one.

Playing to the audience in a speech at Westminster on Wednesday, Zelensky acknowledged the role Britain played. he said.

But after decades of post-Cold War spending cuts, Britain’s armed forces are plagued by shortages and operational capability gaps, so Britain’s desire to help may outweigh its ability to do so. .

The Eurofighter Typhoon jet that the UK may deploy to Ukraine is a good example.

Britain’s fleet is already overstretched and short on spares, according to military analysts. Also, jets are not designed to operate from short or rough runways like they are in Ukraine.

Sending a typhoon “would be an almost purely symbolic gesture that would take a heavy toll on the RAF’s frontline readiness,” said Justin Bronk, a senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London. rice field.

RAF’s Typhoon jets are already overstretched and lack reserves, and weren’t designed to operate on short, rough runways like those in Ukraine © Joe Giddons/POOL/AFP/Getty Images

This does not downplay the importance of the obscure military support Britain has sent to Ukraine. According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, the total amount exceeds her €4 billion, second only to the United States in absolute terms. Provided €23 billion in military aid.

One example is the unspecified “long-range capability” Downing Street promised President Zelensky on Wednesday before the Ukrainian president left for Paris. He will also attend his EU summit in Brussels on Thursday.

The United States and other allies have so far refused to provide long-range missiles that could be used to strike targets within Russian territory, fearing this could lead to an escalation of the conflict.

“The prospects for this visit are incredibly good for Sunak and the UK,” said John Kampfner, UK Executive Director for Chatham House’s World Initiative. It’s one area of ​​policy where the UK has a good story to tell during a period of the country’s worst economic growth.”

Another example is the Brimstone 600 “Fire and Forget” missiles. It can destroy enemy armor at a distance of 20 km. This is what the UK agreed to offer last month.

Amid growing concerns that Russia is set to launch a major spring offensive, one Ukrainian defense adviser said the missiles would be sent to the more politically charged tanks that Kyiv’s allies also promised to send. He said it would make a bigger difference in the conduct of the war than it did.

“Brimstone is more effective in helping us get through this stage,” said the adviser.

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