Don’t forget about Ukraine

The desperate conflict in Israel and Gaza must not distract from the Russia-Ukraine war

November 08, 2023
Ursula von der Leyen visited Kyiv last week. Image: Ukraine Presidents Office / Alamy Stock Photo
Ursula von der Leyen visited Kyiv last week. Image: Ukraine Presidents Office / Alamy Stock Photo

Rishi Sunak hasn’t visited Kyiv this year. Indeed he has only visited once as prime minister, shortly after taking office. Let’s hope that absence makes the heart grow fonder, since the going in Ukraine is set only to get tougher if victory against Putin is to be secured. 

I’m no military expert. But the fact that this week Volodymyr Zelensky was forced to deny a suggestion from his commander-in-chief that the war has reached a stalemate gives a fair impression of the state of play. There is still a real danger that Putin still succeeds in dismembering Ukraine, and not just by retaining southern Crimea but also a good deal of the east of Ukraine too. 

It is a vital for Europeans that this should not happen. Not only would it leave Ukraine in an ongoing conflict with Russia—probably beyond Putin—but it would be an existential threat to European security and democracy, whatever security and economic guarantees are given to the rest of Ukraine. It would constitute a new form of a “Berlin Wall” between democratic Europe and authoritarian Russia, encouraging an imperial mentality in the Kremlin, whoever its occupant. 

The next year is especially crucial, before the conflict becomes “frozen”, or even worse before a re-elected Trump or similar-minded Republican, like Vivek Ramaswamy, threatens to withdraw US military aid if Ukraine does not cede its territorial gains. In total, European aid to Zelensky is now larger than US aid, but military aid is largely American, so the defection of the US would be a body blow to Kyiv, as well as to Nato in its wider resistance to Russian imperialism. 

The desperate conflict in Israel and Gaza must not distract resources from the Ukrainian War. Britain has clear strategic and humanitarian interests in the Middle East also, but it has less capacity to influence outcomes there than on the European mainland. 

There are four essential policies which the UK needs to sustain or enhance. The first is to maintain or increase the totality of its aid, military and humanitarian. UK aid this year, at £2.3bn, is the same as last year. It needs to continue at this level or higher in 2024. 

Second, the UK should be unwavering in its support for a Ukraine victory, and not a ceasefire and negotiation around the status quo. 

Third, diplomatic support for Ukraine to join Nato needs to ramp up over the next year, so that this can take place as soon as practicable, if the US administration after next year’s US elections is amenable. 

Fourth, the same should apply to Ukrainian membership of the EU. Fortunately, the EU itself is accelerating on this front. Ursula von der Leyen was in Kyiv last week—her sixth visit since the Russian invasion—reiterating the EU’s commitment. And who knows, if there is a change of government in Britain next year, we might be a positive force here too. Much to the chagrin of Putin, for whom Brexit was an especial triumph on his way to weakening and invading Europe.