With Kiev seeking an increase in Britain’s military assistance after the visit of the UK’s Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Mark Lancaster, to Ukraine, Sputnik looks into whether London is really willing to develop military collaboration with the Ukrainian government.
During Lancaster’s visit to Kiev on August 31, Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak tried to convince Lancaster of the need to expand military support to the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Poltorak thanked Britain’s contribution to training Ukrainian servicemen, noting that it added to “improving the effectiveness of the soldiers’ actions in combat conditions in Donbass.”
In response, Lancaster said that London’s position on the issue of military assistance remains “flexible.” He said that London is ready to consider the Ukrainian side’s proposals regarding “other areas of assistance.”
The phrase about the “flexible position” may be interpreted in two ways, according to RT’s Alexey Zakvasin.
He suggested that Lancaster apparently hinted at London’s readiness to meet Kiev’s requests, but on the other hand, “Lancaster made it plain that any proposals by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry would be safely stalled by red tape.”
On July 17, 2017, the Daily Mirror reported that London is considering expanding its support for Kiev to counter the so-called “Russian aggression”.
As part of the UK-led Operation Orbital, British instructors are currently training Ukrainian servicemen to discover mines, and provide first aid as well as tackle enemy snipers and armored vehicles.
British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, for his part, said that the expansion of Operation Orbital indicates that Britain allegedly “supports the people of Ukraine and contributes to the preservation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity,” according to Zakvasin.
He added that “most likely, Lancaster’s visit to Kiev is just related to changes in the training of Ukrainian soldiers.”
Mothballed Military Equipment for Ukraine
Zakvasin pointed to the fact that “despite loud statements, the US’s current military assistance to Ukraine remains rather modest and does not extend beyond the framework of Operation Orbital.”
“Open sources indicate that unlike Washington, London pursues a more pragmatic policy. Britain refrains from financing any purchases of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry and does not supply arms to Ukraine,” according to Zakvasin.
Britain’s first and last delivery of military hardware to Ukraine ended in failure. In February 2015, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry bought 20 out-of-service AT105 Saxon armored personnel carriers (APC) from the UK worth about one million dollars.
However, tests of the Saxons revealed their absolute unfitness. On March 10, 2015, an accident involving two of the APCs on the way from Kiev to the town of Berezan in the Kiev region resulted in the death of a Ukrainian soldier.
“The Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s plans to purchase another 55 Saxon vehicles provoked a wide public outcry. Many accused the country’s top brass of corruption, given that Ukrainian industry is capable of producing virtually any armored vehicles related to the Soviet era,” Zakvasin recalled.
Right now, the UK is training cadets from a training center of the Ukrainian Highly Mobile Landing Forces in the city of Zhitomir and servicemen of the 93rd Independent Guards Mechanized Brigade in the city of Kharkov. According to the current plans, at least 5,000 Ukrainian soldiers will be trained within Operation Orbital’s framework by 2018.
Russian military expert Alexey Leonkov, for his part, believes that Lancaster’s visit to Kiev can be seen as a demonstrative move. According to Leonov, Britain continues its anti-Russian course, but in reality London is not ready to provide the Armed Forces of Ukraine with full-fledged military assistance.
“I do not think that London will suddenly start deliveries of combat-effective weapons to Kiev. Ukraine, as before, will remain a market for all sorts of mothballed military equipment because modern Western weapons are expensive. No one will supply them to Ukraine free of charge,” Leonkov told RT.
According to him, Europe, which is represented by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, clearly defined the real niche of Ukraine in the so-called Euro-Atlantic security system.
“We know perfectly well how the West can arm and develop the armies of its allies and those countries in which the West is interested. As for Ukraine, it actually got the message that it cannot count on large-scale support,” Leonkov said.
He also questioned British advisers’ and instructors’ ability to significantly improve the Ukrainian army’s combat readiness. In this vein, Leonkov pointed to Britons’ lack of experience related to combat clashes, something that is relevant for the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
“British soldiers are accustomed to going into battle with massive fire support. They have almost no experience pertaining to close-in fighting with a motivated and well-prepared enemy. In addition, the combat readiness of British airborne troops, in my opinion, is far from optimal,” Leonkov added.
“Of course, British instructors are able to teach Ukrainian soldiers on some individual elements of the battle and share some important experience, but the specifics of British training means that it cannot exert any significant influence on Ukrainians. The British are using other equipment as well as other systems of command and control,” he concluded.