On January 27, the Verkhovna Rada ratified a 1.7 billion pounds loan agreement between Ukraine and the UK for the development of the Ukrainian Navy. The agreement provides for the joint construction of eight missile boats, a frigate, two anti-submarine ships, the supply and installation of weapons systems on existing ships, as well as consulting and technical support for the construction of naval infrastructure. In particular, it is planned to use British funds to develop naval bases near Ochakiv on the Black Sea and in Berdyansk in the Sea of ??Azov.
After the signing on October 8, 2020 of the Agreement on Political Cooperation, Free Trade and Strategic Partnership between Ukraine and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the question remained to what extent would be realized potential of relations between the two countries. Since the signing, the UK has become Ukraine's main partner in ensuring the defense capability of Ukraine and countering the Russian threat. The high level of cooperation between the two countries within the framework of the declared strategic partnership dispelled the doubts and skepticism that could exist in October 2020 and moreover exceeded the most optimistic expectations.
Compared to most European countries, pursuing appeasement policy, London calls a spade and harbors no illusions about Vladimir Putin's policy. It was the UK that took the most resolute position on possible full-scale Russian aggression. In January, unprecedented assistance in the form of 2,000 units of NLAW anti-tank systems was delivered to Kyiv and also British instructors were sent to train new specialists in Ukrainian units. Providing the Ukrainian army with weapons to increase its defense capability could affect the calculations of the Russian command and prevent a potential offensive. In addition to Great Britain, the United States of America, the Czech Republic, and the Baltic countries took preventive measures. Kyiv also expects greater support from Canada.
At the same time, Germany reaffirmed its status of Russia's partner. The country has not changed its position regarding the refusal to supply defense weapons to Ukraine. The Germans hide behind pacifism and the principle of not supplying weapons to conflict regions, but this does not prevent Germany from selling weapons to Egypt, which is involved in the armed conflict in Libya. Moreover, on the way to Ukraine, British aircraft bypassed the airspace of Germany. The country not only does not help Ukraine, but also prevents the NATO partner-countries’ support. Angela Merkel's blocking of military assistance to Ukraine through NATO in 2021 and recent ban on transferring Estonia's artillery to Ukraine are the most indicative cases. The position of the German government regarding possible sanctions remains ambiguous. Olaf Scholz does not name specific measures that will be taken in the event of a Russian offensive, answering journalists' questions, he said: «No one should be under the illusion that there are some measures that will not have consequences for us», thereby emphasizing the priority of cooperation with the Russian Federation and unwillingness to cede pragmatic state interests for the sake of the security of Ukraine, and along with this, Eastern Europe as a whole. The possibility of introducing preventive sanctions was rejected, the chancellor said that sanctions should be applied in proportion to Russia's actions. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy at a press conference with foreign journalists criticized this approach and the unwillingness of partner countries to impose preventive sanctions. «When you defend yourself, when you are face to face with a very difficult state, you ask: what do «sanctions after» mean? To whom are they addressed? Why are they imposed? Are they related to Ukraine? Sorry, unfortunately not», Volodymyr Zelenskyy said. Obviously, the sanctions that will be introduced after the start of the Russian full-scale invasion will not deter aggression against Ukraine, but will be aimed at protecting the Eastern European countries of NATO. Unfortunately for Ukraine, the Joe Biden administration is in solidarity with Germany in its approach to sanctions. The UK, in turn, did not rule out the possibility of imposing preventive sanctions. If the aggression against Ukraine continues, according to Treasury Secretary Simon Clark, London will further aggravate the sanctions regime against companies and people closely connected to the Kremlin. The possibility of applying sanctions against Vladimir Putin personally and Russian billionaires is also being considered. At a press conference with foreign journalists, Volodymyr Zelenskyy was taken by surprise by the question of the position of Ukraine regarding the fact that Russian businesses launder money through the UK and how the Ukrainian government will act in this regard. However, the government of Boris Johnson, itself, by its actions, gave an answer to this question.
It is important to understand that partnership with Ukraine is a part of a grand foreign policy strategy «Global Britain», in which the Russian Federation is mentioned 14 times and is defined as the most acute threat to the UK's national security. The strategy outlines the intention support countries in the Eastern European neighbourhood and beyond to build their resilience to state threats. «This includes Ukraine, where we will continue to build the capacity of its armed forces». The UK is trying to take its place among the global players and has been doing it successfully for the last year, creating flexible alliances in different regions of the planet. In Eastern Europe, the British contingent is already deployed to Estonia and Poland. Britain has also included its carrier strike group in NATO's Readiness Initiative, which aims to improve the readiness of existing national forces and their ability to move within Europe and across the Atlantic. In addition, according to CNN, negotiations are now underway to deploy an additional several thousand British troops in Eastern Europe. The priority country is likely to be Poland, a NATO member state that was supported by London at the end of last year amid the crisis on the Belarusian border. The question remained in what format, in the context of British-Polish cooperation, will the interaction with Ukraine continue.
Speaking at the Lowe Institute on January 21, British Foreign Secretary Liz Trass stressed that the country is currently fostering new trilateral ties with Poland and Ukraine. Liz Trass's statement sparked a lively discussion on the prospect of a new alliance. The non-profit British organization Council on Geostrategy published a tweet depicting a geopolitical map of a possible union.
The expansion of military assistance from two NATO member states would be a powerful sign that would strengthen the security situation around Ukraine. The deployment of the military contingent of Great Britain and Poland on the territory of Ukraine would probably avert the offensive of the Russian Federation, however, there is no talks on the deployment of the British or Polish contingent on the territory of Ukraine. This was confirmed by Minister of Defense Ben Wallace, who emphasized that Ukraine is not a member of NATO. However, the institutionalization of partnership with the UK is the next significant step in the framework of Volodymyr Zelensky's foreign policy strategy. Among the countries-strategic partners, the UK remained a partner without a separate multilateral format of interaction. Ukraine has such a format with Poland and Lithuania – «Lublin Triangle», Turkey – «Quadriga», Moldova and Georgia – «Associated Trio». It is significant that the new format consists of three countries, including Poland. We are witnessing the formation of not only the London-Warsaw-Kyiv axis, but also the creation of a basis for strengthening the Baltic-Black Sea belt, which is so much discussed in the Ukrainian expert community. The UK is also negotiating with Hungary and Slovakia. The security architecture that Ukraine is building includes Turkey, Georgia and Moldova. Poland maintains ongoing cooperation with the countries of the Visegrad Four, while the UK has close relations with the Scandinavian states. However, the formation of a new security architecture will take time. Now we can expect closer coordination between Ukraine, Britain and Poland under the new format, increased military assistance, as well as closer cooperation between the intelligence communities.
Intelligence cooperation remains an essential element of Ukrainian-British relations. On January 22, the British Foreign Office stated it had information indicating that the Russian government was seeking to install a pro-Russian leadership in Kyiv. A potential candidate is the former people's deputy of Ukraine Yevgeny Muraev, who owns the pro-Russian channel «Nash». The pro-Russian government may also include ex-officials of the Viktor Yanukovych years: Mykola Azarov, Andrei Klyuev, Sergei Arbuzov and Vladimir Sivkovich, with whom, according to the British side, the Russian special services maintain the contact. Probably, the Ukrainian side was informed before the Foreign Office publication and the words of Volodymyr Zelenskyy about the possible occupation of Kharkiv are connected with the revealed information, since originally Yevgeny Muraev is from Kharkiv. Earlier, in an interview with The Washington Post, the President of Ukraine expressed the opinion that Russia could launch an invasion of large Ukrainian cities, in particular Kharkiv, exploiting the narrative of the Russian-speaking population protection, and this would be the beginning of a large-scale war. The establishment of a pro-Russian government to legitimize its aggression and create an alternative «real russian’speaking Ukraine» can be considered by the Kremlin as one of the options for further aggression against Ukraine.
The UK is currently showing an unprecedented level of support for Ukraine. This includes military assistance, intelligence cooperation, as well as sanctions that may be introduced against Russia, Russian businesses and Kremlin officials if Russia increases its agression. A confrontation with Russia does not pose an existential threat to the UK. However, Moscow is already showing London that the cost of supporting Ukraine can be high. The Russian Federation plans to conduct exercises of the Russian fleet in the northeastern part of the Atlantic Ocean, not far from the coast of Ireland, where submarine communication cables connecting America and Europe are located. London's next steps in resolving the Russian crisis will determine the UK's place on the world stage, however for now, the actions of the Boris Johnson government confirm the foundations of «Global Britain».