Grant Shapps, pictured on Salisbury Plain, said Britain was looking at ways to help Ukraine “prepare” for NATO membership. Photo: Paul Grover for The Telegraph
Britain will increase its training program for Ukrainian soldiers under plans being discussed with military leaders, the new defense minister has said.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Grant Shapps said he had held talks with army leaders about moving “more training and production” of military equipment to Ukraine. He also called for more British defense firms to open factories in Ukraine.
Following a trip to Kiev last week, Mr Shapps also said he had spoken to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about how the British navy could play a role in protecting commercial ships from Russian attacks in the Black Sea.
Both moves will mark a significant escalation in Britain's involvement in defending Ukraine against Vladimir Putin's attacks. In his first newspaper interview as defense secretary, Mr Shapps also said:
- Invited Britain to repeat Liz Truss's pledge to increase defense spending to 3 per cent of GDP as he said he considered the current government's target of 2.5 percent as a “staging point”;
- UK found ways to help Ukraine “prepare” for NATO membership;
- Removed “quotas” for diversity in armed forces forces;
- Insisted that migrants settling in the UK learn English and “be a productive part of society” when he spoke out in support of Suella Braverman over the Home Secretary's comments on multiculturalism;
- Said it would It is “largely irresponsible” not to reconsider plans for the HS2 rail line in light of the impact of Covid and the war in Ukraine.
As part of the UK-led operation Interflex says more than 20,000 Ukrainian Armed Forces recruits have already trained in the UK since the start of 2022, learning combat skills at bases such as Salisbury Plain, which Mr Shapps visited on Friday.
NATO members, including Britain, have avoided holding formal training programs in Ukraine due to the risk of drawing personnel into hostilities with Russia. Last year, Russia apparently struck a base housing foreign fighter jets with approximately 30 missiles.
Interview by Grant Shapps
However, after a briefing with General Sir Patrick Sanders, Chief of the General Staff, and others by senior staff in Salisbury Put simply, Mr Shapps said: “What I was talking about today is that eventually training will be brought closer and actually extended to Ukraine.”
He added: “I think particularly in the west of the country there is now an opportunity to bring more things 'in-country', and not just training, but we are seeing BAE [British defense firm] for example moving into domestic manufacturing for example .
“I really want other UK companies to do their part by doing the same. Therefore, I think that there will be more opportunities for training and production in the country.”
Separately, after assuring Zelensky on Wednesday that the UK would “continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine”, Shapps suggested the UK was preparing to play a more active role in helping the country defend against attacks in the Black Sea, where Russia is increasingly targeting grain cargo ships. .
Mr Shapps, who replaced Ben Wallace as defense secretary in a mini-shuffle a month ago, said: “Over the last month or so we have seen developments that are truly the first since 2014. on the Black Sea, Crimea, the UK is a naval power so we can help and advise, especially as the water is international.
It is important that we do not allow the default situation to arise where international shipping is somehow prohibited in these waters. So I think there are many places where Britain can help with advice. [I] discussed this with President Zelensky and many others this week.”
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Offering naval support in the Black Sea would lead to an escalation of UK involvement in the conflict.
The defense minister's remarks appear to mark a change in the government's approach to public discussion of increased military intervention in Ukraine – a move that France repeated yesterday when the French military said its aircraft were conducting surveillance over the Black Sea.
Previously It has been claimed that up to 50 British troops were among Western special forces present in Ukraine earlier this year – a matter the government will never discuss publicly.
During a brief election campaign last summer, Mr Shapps said Britain should increase defense spending to 3 percent of GDP from the current level of just over 2 percent. The higher target was accepted by Ms Truss but then abandoned when Jeremy Hunt became chancellor in October 2022, in favor of a target of 2.5 per cent.
When asked whether he wanted to still reaching the 3 per cent target, Mr Shapps said: “I think it is important that we understand that freedom is not free. We have to pay for it, and it also helps us prosper.”