Sunak visits Ukraine to give aid and reassurance of West's support

The British PM announces package worth $3.2 billion that will pay for long-range missiles, drones, air defence, artillery ammunition and maritime security

By AP

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Rishi Sunak hugs Volodymyr Zelensky after signing documents in Kyiv. — AP
Rishi Sunak hugs Volodymyr Zelensky after signing documents in Kyiv. — AP

Published: Fri 12 Jan 2024, 7:53 PM

Last updated: Fri 12 Jan 2024, 8:58 PM

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled new military funding for Ukraine on Friday during a visit to Kyiv aimed at reassuring the country that the West is still providing support nearly 23 months after the crisis with Russia started.

The package, worth 2.5 billion pounds ($3.2 billion) over the next fiscal year, is the largest the UK has given to Ukraine since the war began, surpassing previous annual commitments by 200 million pounds ($233 million), the British government said.

“I am here today with one message: The UK will ... not falter,” Sunak said. “We will stand with Ukraine, in their darkest hours and in the better times to come.”

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The package will pay for long-range missiles, thousands of drones, air defence, artillery ammunition and maritime security, according to Sunak's office. It comes at a time when other financial aid from the US and Europe is tied up by political wrangling,

“We are not walking away,” Sunak said at a news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Ukrainian officials welcomed the UK announcement, pointing to it as evidence that Western support for its fight against its bigger neighbour is not waning, as some have feared.

“This is a signal to the world: Ukraine is not alone,” Zelensky said.

Sunak and Zelensky signed a bilateral security agreement for the next 10 years. It will remain in effect until Ukraine acquires its hoped-for NATO membership, Zelensky said. Details of the agreement are to be released later, officials said.

Rishi Sunak walks with Volodymyr Zelensky during a visit to the Presidential Palace in Kyiv. — AP
Rishi Sunak walks with Volodymyr Zelensky during a visit to the Presidential Palace in Kyiv. — AP

Kyiv has been urging the West to send more of the kind of aid the UK is providing as the grinding war brings little change along the frontline and both sides turn to long-range strikes.

Sunak said he made Ukraine his first foreign trip of the year to send a “strong signal” of support, representing "the seriousness of the situation here and our determination to stand with Ukraine” amid competing claims for international attention.

Russian President Vladimir Putin “needs to recognise we’re not going anywhere", he said.

Sunak’s visit came hours after the British and US militaries bombed Yemen, hitting more than a dozen sites used by the Iranian-backed Houthis.

Thursday’s strikes were a reminder of another war, which has raged for years in the Arab world’s poorest nation. The attack also risked triggering a wider regional conflict over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Those concerns have drawn attention away from Ukraine’s struggle — a shift that Zelensky is trying to counter through diplomacy.

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Sunak first visited Ukraine in November 2022, soon after he became prime minister, and Britain is one of Ukraine's most vocal backers. It is the second-biggest donor of military aid to Ukraine after the US, giving a total of 4.6 billion pounds ($3.3 billion) in 2022 and 2023.

Ukraine and Russia are seeking to replenish their arsenals this year, military analysts say, in anticipation of possible major ground offensives in 2025.

Sunak said the UK aid is the biggest single package from any nation for drones, which have become a key battlefield weapon.

Ukraine says Moscow is receiving artillery shells and missiles from North Korea and drones from Iran. On January 4, the White House cited US intelligence officials as saying that Russia acquired ballistic missiles from North Korea and is seeking them from Iran.

Zelensky is pushing Kyiv’s Western allies to provide more support on top of the billions of dollars in military aid the country has already received.

He visited Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia this week in search of new pledges. The Baltic countries are among Kyiv’s staunchest supporters, and they promised more missiles, drones, howitzers and artillery shells.

Sunak said that the UK recognises that Ukrainian security “is our security,” as Kyiv's forces stand up to Putin.

“Today we are going further — increasing our military aid, delivering thousands of cutting-edge drones, and signing a historic new security agreement to provide Ukraine with the assurances it needs for the long term,” he said.

A plan by the administration of US President Joe Biden to send $60 billion in new funding to Kyiv is being held up in Congress. Europe’s pledge in March to provide 1 million artillery shells within 12 months also has fallen short, with only about 300,000 delivered by the end of last year.


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