What is the extent of British support to Ukraine?

Ukrainian troops (RT)

Ukrainian troops (RT)

We work to improve links between Ukrainian and British people and institutions. We support Ukraine’s EU aspirations and help increase positive change in the rule of law, economic reform, public administration and fight corruption. We work to improve energy security and energy efficiency, beat international crime and threats to international security.

British government statement regarding Britain’s relationship with Ukraine
Viewable at Gov.uk

Few countries in Europe have been as vocal in their support to Ukraine as the United Kingdom. In the wake of perhaps the most chaotic year the people of Ukraine have seen since the end of the Second World War the country suffered revolution, scandal, the loss of the Crimean peninsula and a pro-Russian uprising in the east of the country with constant rumours of Russian regular forces fighting clandestinely on behalf of the rebels. Add to this the constant fear that Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t be happy with just annexing the Crimea and it paints a worrying picture of a situation that could spiral very rapidly out of control.

On February 24th 2015 Prime Minister David Cameron announced that Britain would be sending military advisors to Ukraine to aid the Ukrainian military in the fight against the rebels. This was in response to rumours and indeed some compelling evidence that Russian soldiers were at least training rebels in the Ukraine. Around 75 British military personnel were initially dispatched to the Ukraine where according to the UK government their primary function was to teach essential non-lethal skills which primarily revolve around combat first aid, logistics and intelligence gathering.

However the government did also admit in their February 24th statement that there would be an infantry based assessment program to determine what future training requirements the Ukraine armed forces may need to tackle the rebels in the east of the country. It is likely that these training requirements will be met in the upcoming Rapid Trident 2015 exercise to be held in the Ukraine at the end of July.

Britain’s support for Ukraine has understandably upset Moscow who responded in that typically Soviet way of flying bombers and sailing warships around the coastline of the United Kingdom. The British press continue to make sensationalist headlines regarding these operations by the Russian military but it has to be remembered that British forces have done and continue to do the same near Russian territory and interests. At present a force of RAF Typhoon FGR.4 combat aircraft are providing air defence duties on behalf of NATO for the Baltic States while in 2014 during the Crimean crisis Russian forces were watched very closely by RAF Sentry aircraft using its long range radar to look over the border at Russian activity. On the ground, British Challenger tanks deployed on exercise to Poland where British politicians made efforts to tell the world that the UK and NATO remains committed to protecting eastern Europe – put simply this was a warning to Moscow about having ambitions beyond Ukraine.

So just what is the extent of British support for Ukraine?

Training of Ukrainian government forces

British troops on exercise in Ukraine in 2014 (army.mod.uk)

British troops on exercise in Ukraine in 2014 (army.mod.uk)

According to official British government figures around 850 Ukrainian personnel have been retrained by British advisors since February. This figure is set to rise as in June 2015 Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said that Britain’s retraining of Ukrainian forces would be stepped up to such an extent that 250 Ukrainian troops are scheduled to be retrained in August alone. It should be noted that these figures do not include the number of Ukrainians expected to receive additional training from British and international forces that will be participating in Exercise Rapid Trident 2015 at the end of July. 

British advisors operate as part of four teams each of which is assisting the Ukrainian government forces in different ways.

  1. Medical Short Term Training Team.
    British forces are currently training combat medic instructors in the Ukraine on the basis that they then can train their own medics and thus increase the number of combat medics in the Ukrainian military fully trained to modern NATO standards. Extensive combat experience in Afghanistan and Iraq has meant the British armed forces are in a prime position to teach the most effective methods as well as pass on personal knowledge of administering first aid in a combat scenario.
  2. Logistics Short Term Training Team.
    This team’s role primarily revolves around the assessment of Ukrainian logistics operations on the ground and in the air and then assisting in identifying weaknesses before finally addressing those weaknesses. To the lay-person this may seem like a low priority but as combat experience has proven insurgent forces are very fluid in their movements and often live off the land in some way. Ukrainian government forces may not have that option especially when operating in a pro-rebel area where the local population may view them as the enemy. Therefore their logistics chain needs to be at the top of its game to keep the Ukrainian troops mobile and able to keep fighting while at the same time being able to evacuate wounded quickly and safely.
  3. Infantry Short Term Training Team.
    It has been repeatedly made clear that the British Army mission is non-combat however that does not mean that British advisor’s aren’t looking at the way the Ukrainian military has been engaged in the fighting. This team’s role is to look at how the Ukrainians are tackling the rebels directly and pass on knowledge gained from experience in Afghanistan to improve their combat effectiveness.
  4. Intelligence Capacity Building Short Term Training Team

This team’s primary goal is to provide tactical level analysis training aimed at making Ukrainian troops more proficient at analysing information and gathering intelligence to allow them to better understand their combat environment.

Material Support to Ukraine

Over the last year the UK has also provided personal protective equipment (PPE), winter fuel, medical kits, winter clothing and sleeping bags to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. On July 3rd 2015 a Royal Air Force Lockheed C-130J Hercules took off from the UK bound for Ukraine with a cargo of items requested specifically by the Ukrainian government to support their troops. The aircraft carried 1,000 individual battlefield First Aid Kits, 2,000 Mk.6 helmets and up to 54 helmet-mounted monocular night vision goggles (MNVGs) to improve the Ukrainians government forces’ ability to fight under the cover of night which is still something of a limiting factor for the rebels.

On the 13th of July the British government announced that it would be sending additional equipment in the form of 200 global positioning system (GPS) units, 220 hardened laptops, and a further 100 MNVGs. These items had been promised along with the equipment sent on the 3rd of July back in March but are yet to be delivered. The whole cost of Britain’s material support to Ukraine is currently listed as being in the £2 million range but this does include transportation and maintenance costs.

Additional Support

The above support is in addition to ongoing British involvement in helping to keep the country functional and thus reduce the effect the fighting has on the country. This includes providing;

  • Crisis management skills
  • Anti-corruption tactics
  • Defence reform to meet the challenge ahead
  • Improved strategic communications

Beyond Ukraine

The European Union continues to sanction Russia for its role in the Crimean crisis and the fighting in the east of Ukraine with the earliest they can be expected to be lifted at present being January 2016. This means that many financial assets Russian banks hold in the west have been withheld to put pressure on Putin’s economy.

It hasn’t all been one sided however as Putin has “retaliated” politically. Firstly, in his own country the west continues to become demonised in the eyes of the Russian people increasing mistrust and even hatred back to Cold War levels. Putin’s own particular dislike of Britain has seen his government voice its support to Argentina over the Latin American country’s claim on the Falkland Islands even to the point of possible arms negotiations which at one point included Sukhoi Su-24 low level strike aircraft. Meanwhile the Russian military itself continues to flex its muscles warning the west it will not be provoked with Russian aircraft making high speed passes over American warships in the Baltic.

The situation in the Ukraine is in many ways like a microcosmic replica of the Cold War; the two major sides fighting over a piece of land in the middle but training and equipping someone else to do the fighting all the while making claims, counter-claims and denials to one another. The actual fighting has largely ground down in recent months to a slow war of attrition and the relationship between Ukraine and its western supporters with Moscow continues to be frosty. On Friday July 17th the Ukrainians expelled Russia’s consul general from the Black Sea port of Odessa accusing him of “actions incompatible with diplomatic activity” which proves that despite efforts to establish a permanent ceasefire the air of hostility is still quite fresh.

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3 responses to “What is the extent of British support to Ukraine?

    • I agree on the first point but I am not so sure about the second. A lot of western efforts has been reactionary in the case of Ukraine however I would agree that a few decisions in the recent decade particularly by the US has been somewhat provocative. Personally I don’t see why NATO has to have fully armed frontline combat jets over the Baltic in an air policing role. Why not supply armed Hawk or Alpha Jet trainers to the Baltic countries to police their own airspace and then if the Russians poke their noses inside their territory NATO will have just cause in deploying combat aircraft

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  1. It’s a tricky one and you raise a good point in your comment. Let’s face it a small force of Typhoons is not going to stop an invading army of Russian forces. It’s a gesture that’s all just as the soviet sub of Scotland and it’s bombers penetrating British airspace is. The west will always ‘train’ weaker powers where Russia threatens armed action and vice versa. It’s gone on since the Second World War across the more unstable areas of the globe. Far East, Middle East and now the Baltic to name but a few. This flexing of muscles accusations, claims and counter claims etc will no doubt continue until one day a strong and binding agreement is made or the world annihilates itself. Hopefully it’ll be the former.

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