8 February 2023

Brexit Britain has done so much for Ukraine – now it should go a step further and provide planes

By Oleksii Goncharenko

President Zelensky’s visit to the UK today is a sign of the esteem with which Brexit Britain is held by the Ukrainian people. A year ago, when Putin expected a swift victory and apologists for his regime looked the other way, Britain stepped forward. Then PM Boris Johnson and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace both understood instantly that compromise was not an option, that Ukraine had to defeat Russia’s brutal war of aggression.

What a contrast to the prevarication elsewhere in Europe, where commentators suggested we would simply roll over in the face of the Kremlin’s war machine. A year on, their naïve pessimism has been exposed, Ukraine has not fallen and our heroic armed forces are on the front foot against the invaders.

And we have much to thank the UK for, not least leading the international efforts to provide humanitarian aid and military supplies. Delivery of the now renowned NLAW anti-tank system has been instrumental in our defence of Kyiv and halting the Russian advance elsewhere. It’s remarkable that even now the French and German governments dither about sending us the equipment we need, while the UK’s clarity of purpose has led to concrete action. I have no doubt that without the UK providing the Challenger 2 heavy tank, Germany would have continued to refuse efforts from countries like Poland to supply us with Leopard tanks.

It’s worth putting some numbers on that British contribution. As a recent report from the Centre for Brexit Policy sets out, in the immediate run-up to the invasion and for the next nine months the UK spent more on military assistance to Kyiv (£3.7bn) than all the EU institutions combined (£2.8bn). The report’s author, Professor Gwythin Prins, is also absolutely right that the time is now for the UK and the West to double down on their support for Ukraine.

But given that the UK and others have already started sending heavy tanks, how much further can they go?

The answer is to provide us with warplanes (as Zelensky demanded today) along with the long-range missiles we need to contest Russia’s dominance of the skies. At the beginning of the war, we believed that Nato  might be willing to enforce a no-fly zone above our country. Sadly, this remains unlikely. The next best option would be for the UK or any of our Western supporters and allies to provide modern aircraft and the necessary training for Ukraine to develop its own capabilities. This is broadly similar to what the West has already agreed and provided for conventional land-based warfare. It is the next logical step for the UK and others to take as we continue to push out Putin’s invasion.

Ultimately the point is a simple one: no Russian soldiers should be allowed to remain on Ukrainian soil. The world knows the atrocities that Putin has perpetrated, the genocide he has organised against a nation that he hates. His forces have stolen and murdered our children, butchered our civilians in Bucha and Izyum, and tortured them in Kherson.

There is not a shred of doubt that we face a maniacal, deeply evil enemy whose defeat cannot come about soon enough. Every moment that we are not provided with supplies is another chance for Putin to kill more Ukrainian civilians. If you want the quickest end to the war, double down on supplying Ukraine and give us the tools to contest our own airspace.

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Oleksii Goncharenko is the MP for Odesa.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.