On Thursday, UK prime minister Boris Johnson met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Downing Street for the signing of UK-Ukraine Political, Free Trade and Strategic Partnership Agreement. The UK government’s press report said, “The two leaders welcomed the new Agreement, which lays the foundation for an intensified bilateral relationship.”
The report added, “The two leaders discussed the importance of working together to counter Russia’s malign influence, both in Ukraine and in the wider region. They also expressed their shared concern about the situation in Belarus.” During the meet, Johnson also emphasized the steps UK took against the recent human rights abuses in Belarus, including the imposition of sanctions.
Ukraine has been battling Russian influence and Moscow-backed militants on its eastern border since 2014 war. With the recent eruption of political unrest in the neighbouring Belarus, its security has been further threatened. The country has been seeking arms help from US and European Union for years but both preferred to avoid any commitment in order to steer clear of offending Russia. Hence, the UK’s confirmation to sell lethal weapons to Ukraine is likely to pave way for a key strategic partnership between the two, especially in the post-Brexit era. UK also committed to loan £1bn to help Ukraine in strengthening its naval defence in the Black Sea,
Andriy Yermak, the head of office to Zelenksy, clarified that his country doesn’t intend to use the arms deal as an excuse to target Russia, but only to strengthen its own defences, He said, “The strategy is not organise large military parades and not to go on the TV to blame the Russians for all our misfortunes – that does not save the lives of Ukrainians. We need to be careful and cold minded to advance Ukraine’s interests and to use all possible platforms for talks, reduce tension and save lives.”
Meanwhile, Yermak strongly expressed his country’s worry about rising tensions in Belarus, where over 12,000 got detained since President Alexander Lukashenko gained power through what was described as rigged elections. He said: “Under a worst case scenario we face a very direct threat to our independence and territorial integrity. We are on the front lines. We should act specifically to counteract such threats without any diplomatic subtleties.”
Yermak also raised the need for fresh rough of talks with Russia, urging the leaders of France and Germany for a peaceful resolution.
Besides, Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said that Zelensky also pushed Johnson to set a timeline for Ukrainian Nato membership, which the nation has been aspiring for years. “Our president was very clear. He said Ukraine needs a Nato membership action plan. Nato membership will contribute to Ukrainian security and defence,” Kukeba said.