Rishi Sunak visits Kyiv to unveil major new package of support

UK commits to supplying largest delivery of drones to Ukraine from any country

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is welcomed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the Presidential Palace in Kyiv. PA
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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrived in Kyiv on Friday to unveil a major new package of support for Ukraine, hours after British troops struck Houthi targets in Yemen in co-ordination with the US.

The UK will step up funding for Ukraine in the next financial year to £2.5 billion ($3.19 billion), including a commitment to supply drones, the largest such delivery to Ukraine by any country, the government said on Friday.

Mr Sunak and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a UK-Ukraine agreement on security co-operation, making Britain the first country to deliver on the G7 nations' agreement to provide Kyiv with bilateral security assurances at last year’s Nato summit in Vilnius.

“For two years, Ukraine has fought with great courage to repel a brutal Russian invasion,” Mr Sunak said.

“They are still fighting, unfaltering in their determination to defend their country and defend the principles of freedom and democracy.

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

“The UK is already one of Ukraine’s closest partners, because we recognise their security is our security.

“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.”

The security agreement formalises support the UK is providing for Ukraine, including intelligence sharing, cyber security, medical and military training, and industrial defence co-operation.

Mr Sunak’s spokesman said the agreement was intended to be “the first step in developing an unshakeable 100-year partnership between Ukraine and the United Kingdom”. Under the terms, Britain is committed to consulting with Ukraine in the event it is attacked by Russia again and to provide “swift and sustained” defence assistance.

Speaking after the signing of what he called an “unprecedented security agreement”, Mr Zelenskyy said it would remain in effect until Ukraine joined Nato.

“I am glad that we concluded the first agreement with the United Kingdom … This is the basis for working with other partners,” the Ukrainian leader said.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visits Kyiv - in pictures

Mr Sunak first visited Ukraine in November 2022, soon after becoming Prime Minister.

Britain is the second-biggest donor of military aid to the country after the US, giving a total of £4.6 billion in 2022 and 2023.

The additional £2.5 billion funding will optimise UK military expertise and defence production in critical areas such as long-range missiles, air defence, artillery ammunition and maritime security, the government said.

At least £200 million will be spent to procure and produce thousands of military drones for Ukraine, including surveillance, long-range strike and sea drones, representing the largest delivery of drones to Ukraine from any nation.

Most of the drones are expected to be made in the UK and the Ministry of Defence will work with international partners to boost the number provided for Ukraine’s defence.

The Ukrainian leader has previously said his country particularly needs air defence systems to fend off Russian aerial barrages.

More than 500 drones and missiles were fired between December 29 and January 2, according to officials in Kyiv.

But there have been concerns that global focus on the war has shifted, as the crisis in the Middle East continues to escalate and concerns grow about the fate of civilians in Gaza.

The British Prime Minister's visit came only hours after UK and US forces launched strikes against targets controlled by Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Mr Sunak also met first responders dealing with the aftermath of Russian bombings during his visit to the Ukrainian capital.

The UK has pledged an additional £18 million in aid for Ukraine, building on almost £340 million already provided.

Some of that funding will support organisations such as the UN and Red Cross to provide humanitarian aid on the front line, and £8 million will go to fortify Ukraine’s energy infrastructure against further attacks.

The UK will also provide additional funding and resources for English language training in Ukraine.

To date, the UK has provided almost £12 billion in support to Ukraine, including Storm Shadow cruise missiles to a squadron of Challenger 2 tanks.

Both Ukraine and Russia are keen to replenish their weaponry after 22 months of fighting and the potential for a protracted war.

The roughly 1,500km front line has been largely static during winter, with both sides requiring artillery shells, missiles and drones that enable long-range strikes.

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 Russia had acquired ballistic missiles from North Korea and was seeking similar weapons from Iran.

Updated: January 12, 2024, 3:22 PM