The visit of President Zelensky to the UK is testament to the regard Ukraine has for the support provided by the British public and government, as well as a sign of continued relations between the two states in military cooperation and future reconstruction. But as the Ukrainian leader spoke of UK’s unfaltering support for Ukraine, there stands the question of why vital help has always been delayed.
The UK is the third country to be visited by the Ukrainian president after the start of the war. Zelensky travelled to the US in December, making a stop on the return journey in Poland. Speaking at Westminster Hall, the Ukrainian president reiterated the connection between the two states, least of all through amusing comments on his previous visit in 2020, and clearly identified the area in which Britain can step up its support – planes.
Indeed, while Western support for Ukraine has been forthcoming, including support from Britain, it has often been delayed in the areas that really matter. With the media currently gripped by the promise of Leopard 2 and other tanks, less attention is given to the arguably more influential decision to send Bradley Fighting Vehicle by the US – announced nearly a year into the war, we should ask ourselves why it has taken so long.
The UK’s significant contribution in the armoured fighting vehicles has been the Spartan. First made in 1978, the Spartan was phased out from UK service from 2009. They are no longer listed in the British Army Equipment and Formations lists. Being lightly armed, with a machine gun as opposed to a cannon, and carrying 6 soldiers, unevenly breaking up a Ukrainian squad that numbers from 15 people, the 120 machines promised by Prime Minister Johnson are not easy to integrate into the Ukrainian tactics while not providing sufficient fire cover for infantry.
In turn, the previous US contribution, of the M113, does not stack up better. Only protecting from machine gun fire and not being able to return fire with anything but a machine gun or grenade launcher, it is not a fitting match for an encounter with the BMP-2, which Russia is so keen to continue producing, while likely to live through a fight with a BRT. In this regard, the Bradley is a game changer. Although, admittedly, both the M113 and the Spartan are preferable compared to having no armour.
Still, we have the situation whereby western powers wait through the invasion and the initial Ukrainian pushback in April and May, through the offensive in Kharkiv and Kherson, and until the threat of a new Russian attack to send modern(ish) weapons. It is remarkable to think that had this decision been made in the summer, let alone spring last year – Ukraine would already have tanks and armoured vehicles, providing overmatch to the Russian forces. Worse still, while the Germans announced Leopard 2 deliveries, they speak of providing Leopard 1s, with a delivery delay of up to 6 months.
And all the while, as Ukrainian defenders make use of the outdated hand-me-downs from the West, we have an extraordinary display of resolve and leadership from Zelensky. With the request for plains and further support being a prerequisite of the speech, Zelensky warned of a need for pre-emptive actions – sanctions and soft power that was insufficiently forthcoming from the West to prevent Russian aggression. Praising British leadership and Ukrainian bravery, the president of a country at war stood in front of British MPs and called to attend, not just to the needs of his people, but to those who may face threats in the future.
British foreign and military strategy has, for a number of years now, been governed by the Integrated Review, a strategy document that outlined the very same point Zelensky was making. Only he was speaking from experience of a man who felt first-hand the limits of British adherence to their own strategy. And even as we look to supply Ukraine with further AS90 guns and Challenger tanks, we have the bizarre situation where British Petroleum made £580 million from their stake in their share of Rosneft profits last year. The UK is still to deliver legislation on providing Ukraine with compensation from frozen Russian assets, it still facilitates the operation of the propagandising Russian Orthodox Church as a charitable organisation, the list goes on. It is time for MPs to read the Integrated Review.