As I write this, eight weapons carrying C-17 transport aircraft have completed the trip from RAF Brize Norton to Kiev, Ukraine.
The bulk of Britain’s C-17 transport aircraft fleet has been almost entirely dedicated to this effort over the last few days.
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At this point, well over one thousand NLAW anti-armour systems are now in the hands of Ukraine.
Here's a time-lapse of all of the United Kingdom to #Ukraine weapons airlift flights from the morning of the 17th of January to this very minute on the 19th of January 2022. The UK has no intention of letting Ukraine fall. pic.twitter.com/p4DcNv25mt
— George Allison (@geoallison) January 19, 2022
Why? Well, quite simply most Western intelligence services appear to believe that an invasion of Ukraine by Russia is imminent after tens of thousands of Russian troops massed on the border with Ukraine.
Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace said, “the United Kingdom will stand up for the right of countries to choose their alliances. More important than the choice they make is the right to have that choice”. He later added:
“The UK’s position on Ukraine is also clear. We unequivocally support its sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders, including Crimea. Ukraine is an independent, sovereign country of proud, independent Ukrainian people. The UK Ministry of Defence already has a long-standing relationship with our Ukrainian counterparts, and we continue to provide support in many areas, including security assistance and defence reform. Since 2015, the UK has helped to build the resilience and capabilities of the Ukrainian armed forces through Operation Orbital, which has trained more than 22,000 Ukrainian troops. We maintain the right to deliver bilateral support to a sovereign nation when requested in areas that will better help them defend themselves.
We have taken the decision to supply Ukraine with light, anti-armour defensive weapons systems. A small number of UK personnel will provide early-stage training for a short period of time within the framework of Operation Orbital before returning to the United Kingdom.”
The issue is, and this is rare, something that appears to be uniting the Conservatives and Labour, both believing that helping Ukraine defend itself and in turn, deterring Russian aggression is the right thing to do.
Shadow Secretary of State for Defence John Healey said on the 17th of January, “It is critical that the Kremlin appreciate that any new military attack on Ukraine will be bloody on both sides”. Well, the delivery of thousands of anti-tank weapon systems absolutely ensures that will be the case.
Britain and Ukraine’s military cooperation – what’s involved?
British military assistance to Ukraine was increased significantly after 2014 and the Russian annexation of Crimea, a Parliamentary Research Briefing paper has taken a look at just what that involves.
In 2015 the UK launched Operation Orbital, a non-lethal training and capacity building operation that provides guidance and training to the Ukrainian armed forces.
“In August 2020 the MOD announced that the UK will lead a new multinational maritime training initiative that will boost the capacity of Ukraine’s Navy to act in the Black Sea. The UK and Ukraine have also launched the Naval Capabilities Enhancement Programme, which will develop Ukraine’s naval capabilities. To date, over 21,000 Ukrainian military personnel have been trained under these initiatives. The UK has also gifted £2.2 million of non-lethal military equipment.”
In June 2021 the UK, Ukraine and industry signed a Memorandum of Implementation that will push the NCEP forward. Work will now commence on:
• Ukraine’s purchase of two refurbished Royal Navy Sandown-class minehunters in a government-to-government sale
• The sale and integration of missiles on new and in-service Ukrainian Navy patrol and airborne platforms, including a training and engineering support package
• Assistance in building new naval bases in the Black Sea and Azov Sea
• The development and joint production of eight fast missile warships
• Participation in the Ukrainian project to deliver a modern frigate capability.
Recently, HMS Defender ignored Russian warnings while the warship was sailing near Crimea as part of an effort to demonstrate that it backs Ukraine, so Russia hit back with information warfare trying to paint a story of aggression. It was a British ship sailing through waters recognised as belonging to an ally.
Additionally, British surveillance aircraft have been keeping an eye on Russian forces. Last week, a British RC-135 ‘Rivet Joint’ intelligence-gathering aircraft once again deployed to Crimea to keep an eye on Russian forces near the border with Ukraine.
Earlier, we reported that there has been an increase in the frequency of British RC-135 aircraft being deployed to the Black Sea region near Ukraine’s border with Russia. The UK has deployed an aircraft for this task every few days over the last month or so. British surveillance aircraft being over the Black Sea near Crimea isn’t unusual but we are seeing a significant increase in the frequency of the flights over the last few weeks. American assets are also present.
The British Foreign Secretary has stated that Britain is “ensuring that Ukraine has the capability to defend itself”.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in Parliament:
“In December, I visited British troops forming part of NATO’s enhanced forward presence at Tapa in Estonia, where allies are helping to protect the border with Russia. We are working with our NATO partners to ensure that that protection remains in place and is enhanced so that we can fulfil our commitments. With Ukraine, we are ensuring that it has the capability to defend itself. That involves training, and the UK has trained more than 20,000 troops in Ukraine. We are also supplying extra capability for naval defences as well as support in areas such as cyber-security and other services.”
Britain isn’t going to get involved in the fighting, we all know that, but it is doing its best to give Ukraine sharp enough teeth to make Russia fight for every mile. Whether or not that makes a difference to Russia is yet to be seen. Might the Kremlin now think twice? We can only hope so.
I have always been a big believer in doing what I believe to be “the right thing to do”, that’s why I’m for this weapons supply effort. It is vital that this country does the right thing by helping to ensure that an independent sovereign state does not fall to an authoritarian regime.
I’ve never served in the armed forces, I have never been to war or even in a war zone but I’m not stupid, I’m fully aware that military conflict is not glamorous. Simply put, war is tears and funerals and anything that can be done to deter war is something all decent people should back.
Let’s not kid ourselves, the UK in recent years has had serious issues but this isn’t a political website so I’m not particularly keen on exploring the ups and downs of how the UK Government have handled things. I think this course of action, Britain supplying defensive weapons to Ukraine, is the right one and I hope that the UK continues to do ‘the right thing’ and leads the effort to prevent further conflict in Ukraine by visibly and unwaveringly supporting the right of Ukraine to exist.