Photo: Painting by Nicholas Habbe, "Britannia Rules the Waves"
Source: Ian Hill Photography
On April 9, 2022, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson visited Kyiv without prior announcement. “This visit is a manifestation of strong, significant, constant support for Ukraine from the United Kingdom. We appreciate it and will remember it”, the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy said. In addition to the symbolic significance of this trip, a demonstration of support for the Ukrainian nation, for which the head of the British government became a modern personification of Winston Churchill, Boris Johnson's visit was of practical significance. Already today, the UK government's contribution competes with the United States and motivates Joe Biden as a leader of the democratic world, as well as other developed nations, to do more. Following Volodymyr Zelenskyy's meeting with Boris Johnson, new military assistance was announced which includes 120 armored vehicles and new Harpoon anti-ship missile systems, high-quality military equipment worth 100 million pounds, including more Starstreak anti-aircraft missiles, 800 more anti-tank missiles and high-tech ammunition.
As Ukrainian political analyst Yevhen Magda noted, the British Prime Minister visited Kyiv immediately after the meeting between Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer. Austria is a state that has been trying to pursue a policy of appeasement for a long time, and therefore it is in the interests of this country to end the Ukrainian-Russian war as soon as possible and return to “business as usual”, in all likelihood, incl. through possible concessions on the part of Ukraine. The leader of Great Britain, on the contrary, takes a tough stance towards Russian aggression. In all likelihood, Johnson assured Volodymyr Zelenskyy of his support and urged him to continue the fight.
Russian-British geopolitical competition is a phenomenon that has existed for centuries, and even when after the Second World War, Great Britain lost the status of world power, the state did not change its antagonistic attitude, first towards the USSR, and then towards the Russian Federation. Therefore, the modern confrontation with Russia can be characterized as an element of the strategic culture of British foreign policy.
Modern Britain is perhaps the best example of a country that fully adheres to the adopted foreign policy doctrine. In the doctrine called “Global Britain” the Russian Federation is defined as the most acute threat to the national security of the state and the intentions to actively deter and defend against the full range of threats originating from Russia, to uphold international rules and norms and hold Russia accountable for their violations, working with international partners are outlined. In this document, a significant role is assigned to Eastern European countries, whose support can ensure the leading role of London on the European continent.
Therefore, at present the United Kingdom remains Ukraine's largest partner along with the United States. The government of Boris Johnson has imposed an unprecedented number of sanctions on the aggressor country. It is important that London not only opposes the Russian government, but also beats Russian business, both within its own country and throughout the British Commonwealth, wherever it is possible. The United Kingdom uses its political influence, including Within the existing formats (NATO, Joint Expeditionary Force, G7, British Commonwealth) and new alliances, such as AUKUS, are being set up to achieve certain goals.
Shortly before the war, another format was formed together with Poland and Ukraine. Consolidation of these countries is in line with the foreign policy interests and objectives of all three states. For Ukraine, it is strengthening the security belt by creating flexible alliances. For Poland - strengthening security and maintaining regional leadership in Eastern Europe. For Britain, it is implementing the Global Britain strategy, that is, strengthening regional security and expanding the country's geopolitical influence, which could become an alternative to France and Germany as a player responsible for security across the continent.
German governments have compromised themselves through a partnership with the Russian Federation. High-ranking German officials used to become great friends of Russia, such as Gerhard Schroeder, who became a member of Gazprom's board. Former Nord Stream 2 lobbyist, incumbent President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose fate if Russia had not attacked Ukraine, would probably be similar to Schroeder's. Germany on Merkel's years neglected the interests and security of Eastern European countries for financial gain, which was a major strategic mistake and led to a decline in trust between Germany and Eastern Europe. Now Germany remains important in the context of financial support for Ukraine, while its policy is gradually changing in favor of greater support for Ukraine. However, the future assessment of Germany's contribution will primarily depend on the imposition of sanctions and the provision of military assistance to Ukraine.
At the same time, the French leadership is currently focusing on the internal political struggle. Emmanuel Macron's main competitor in election race is Marie Le Pen, who does not hide her pro-Russian views. Le Pen is playing on the deteriorating standard of living of French people because of the crisis caused by Russia's armed aggression and promises not to impose sanctions on Russia. The candidate also announced her intention to leave the North Atlantic Alliance integrated command. The current president of France has thus become a hostage to the election and chooses rather restrained rhetoric, given the priority of resolving internal issues for the French population. If Emmanuel Macron wins, France's aid to Ukraine may increase, but to date France has not been able to become Europe's leader, while the French president has learned the lesson that hard power can be much more effective in countering the aggressor than phone calls.
In this respect, the United Kingdom is very different from the continental powers of Europe. After leaving the European Union, the country found itself in a state of uncertainty and there were doubts whether the country would have enough resources to become a global power. However, the state is currently gradually fulfilling its foreign policy tasks. The demonstration of commitment to the principle of free navigation by the British destroyer HMS Defender, cooperation with Ukraine and active opposition to Russia show the subjectivity of the state and connect the countries of Eastern Europe with London.
According to William Wallace, director of research at Chatham House, no British foreign minister will be able to fulfill the promises of “global Britain” if there is a war. The researcher draws this conclusion based on the fact that after the publication of the Comprehensive Review of Security, Defense and Foreign Policy in 2021, Britain is mostly concerned with the European continent, despite the strategy of returning to the “East of Suez”. However, if Ukraine defeats Russia in this war, Britain will weaken its principal adversary and increase its influence in Eastern Europe, as a state supporting Ukrainians. Britain will also be seen as a trusted ally of the Bucharest Nine and the Joint Expeditionary Force. Thus, the path to “Global Britain” lies through Ukraine's victory in the war with Russia.
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