British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has requested an assessment of the war in Ukraine, BBC Newsnight reported on Saturday, Dec. 17, with the focus being on the conflict’s progress and the UK’s military contributions.
An anonymous Downing Street source told the BBC that the audit, known as a data-driven assessment, “is about looking at what we [the U.K.] have put in [and] what we have got out.”
The U.K. has been Ukraine’s second largest donor since Russia launched its illegal invasion in February, having committed £2.3 billion in military assistance alongside multiple humanitarian and financial aid packages.
Britain’s help for Ukraine, however, started long before the onset of the ongoing war.
“Defense and security links between Ukraine, NATO members and other allies and partners started soon after Ukraine’s independence in 1991,” the UK Parliament said in a research briefing published on Dec. 12. “[That] intensified further when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, but primarily took the form of training and the bilateral provision of non-lethal military equipment.”
“Since Russia’s military operations against Ukraine began on Feb. 24, bilateral military assistance has been stepped up,” the report adds, confirming that “the U.K. is also hosting a training program, supported by a number of allies, with the aim of training 10,000 new and existing Ukrainian personnel every 120 days.”
The report also reaffirms that the U.K. has “made a pledge to match that assistance in 2023.” Yet Mr. Sunak’s request for an audit has stirred concern in Whitehall, with military bigwigs stressing that weapons supplies to Ukraine may prove decisive in the coming months.
End of the Boris effect?
Likening the audit to a “Goldman Sachs dashboard,” the Whitehall insider went on to tell the BBC that “wars aren’t won [by dashboards]. Wars are won on instinct.”
Referencing former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a staunch supporter of Ukraine, the source said:
“At the start of this it was Boris sitting down and saying ‘let’s just go for this.’ So Rishi needs to channel his inner Boris on foreign policy though not of course on anything else.”
Writing in the Wall Street Journal last week, Mr. Johnson said that negotiations between Ukraine and Russia were not possible, that the “war can only end in Putin’s defeat,” and reiterated his calls for Ukraine to be sent more weaponry.
“First, let’s give the Ukrainians the help they need against aerial attacks,” he wrote, adding that Kyiv needs unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to detect enemy drone and missile launch sites, along with antiaircraft missiles to take them down.
Mr. Johnson also suggested that planes could be supplied to help Ukraine shoot down the mainly Iranian-produced drones.
“The drones have the same engines as Vespa scooters,” he wrote, “so planes to shoot them down don’t have to be fast. As one Ukrainian put it to me, Spitfires would do. We don’t make spitfires in the U.K. anymore, but plenty of countries have planes that would do the job.”
The call by Mr. Sunak for an audit has, however, allegedly made some question if his government might be wavering on continuing its support at the same level. But Downing Street has frequently insisted that Sunak remains firmly supportive of Ukraine.
In a tweet on Nov. 19, the Prime Minister shared a video of his visit to Kyiv on Twitter, where he met with President Volodymyr Zelensky, writing that “We [the UK] are with you all the way.”
Furthermore, writing in Kyiv Post on Ukraine’s Independence Day this year, Mr. Sunak reassured Ukrainians of Britain’s staunch support.
“Your steadfast courage in standing up to aggression has given hope to peaceful and freedom loving people around the world, and sends a clear message to despots that no matter how the odds may be stacked in their favor, they will never prevail,” he wrote.
“Whatever the changes here in our country, we Brits will always remain your strongest ally.
“We will keep supporting your brave fighters to protect your citizens, we will keep providing humanitarian aid to ensure you have access to medication and food, and we will keep sheltering your loved ones until they can return home safely and sleep soundly.”
In a lecture delivered this week, Admiral Tony Radakin, chief of the defense staff, told the Royal United Services Institute that Russia’s “cupboard is bare”, and warned against the U.K. reducing its help for Ukraine.
“Extraordinary times call for an extraordinary response,” he said. “This explains why Russia is losing. And the free world is winning… Providing we maintain our cohesion and resolve, the real victory within our grasp is much more significant."
This comes amid growing worries over Russia potentially launching a new ground offensive early next year, with Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov speculating that such an offensive could take place in February.
“The second part of the mobilization, 150,000 [soldiers] approximately… do a minimum of three months [training] to prepare,” Reznikov told The Guardian on Dec. 15. “It means they are trying to start the next wave of the offensive probably in February… That’s their plan.”
Meanwhile, the U.S., the biggest donor to Ukraine during the ongoing war, has been seen by some analysts to be displaying caution, with The Economist reporting that a substantial delivery of weapons from the U.S. may not arrive in time for next year’s possible second offensive.
Responding to this, the Whitehall source told the BBC: "We have stiffened the U.S. resolve at all levels – pressure from us but always friendly. We don't want Rishi to reinforce [U.S. President Joe] Biden's caution. We want him to keep pushing in the way Boris did."