Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine has seen international condemnation and dozens of nations sending military and humanitarian aid to help Kyiv resist the imperial conquests of Moscow. One of Ukraine’s biggest supporters has been the United Kingdom, a historical geopolitical rival of Russia and its global ambitions for hundreds of years.

The United Kingdom has endured a bitter and slow decline post WWII. As former PM Anthony Eden stated, the “winds of change” came to a point where the British had to acknowledge they were no longer the top superpower in the world and decolonization was inevitable.

Background and Aid to Ukraine’s Army

Decades of decolonization and drawdowns of the Kingdom’s armed forces greatly affected Britain, as the nation became increasingly reliant on American backing. The economy had gradually declined with an ever-bleak economic recession in the wake of Brexit—something the Kremlin backed itself. Nonetheless, the country made efforts into creating its own defense industry while most of Europe went through decades of stagnation when they remained under the American nuclear umbrella.

When Russia decided to invade and annex Crimea, along with sending thousands of FSB to instigate war in the Donbas region, the British were the first to answer the call of preparing Kyiv for a protracted conflict. Ukraine’s military was in a cataclysmic state in wake of Russia’s first invasion in 2014. Mass defections to the Russian military and a poor command and logistical structure allowed Russian special forces and FSB officers to gain a foothold in the Donbas region, planting seeds for a full-scale war.

If it wanted to, Moscow could’ve potentially overthrown the Ukrainian government and taken control of large swaths of territory in 2014 before Kyiv spent years preparing for the inevitable. This is where Britain helped turn the tide of the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Training the Ukrainian Armed Forces to the NATO Doctrine

The British government was one of the first to prepare the ZSU and organize them in the more competent Western NATO doctrine of warfare. Training and funding has been ongoing since 2014, and Kyiv’s general command has praised the British Royal Army in their embedded training courses on their soil.

The renewed conversion to Western military doctrine has been essential for Ukraine, as at the beginning of Russia’s all-out assault, they were able to repel their advances toward Kyiv and organize tactical withdrawals in key areas without having thousands of troops flee in a disorganized manner or captured at once as seen in 2014.

Incidents Between Britain and Russia

Like Eastern Europe, the British had long warned Western Europe and the United Nations of Russia’s ambitions in the region. The nation would suffer a chemical weapons attack by Russia’s intelligence service which used a nerve agent in the city of Salisbury in 2018 when the FSB attempted to assassinate double agents in England.

In 2021, when the British were monitoring Russia’s Black Sea Fleet movements, the latter claimed they had chased out the HMS Defender away from the occupied Crimean Peninsula. The Royal Navy later stated this was a fabrication for media consumption and propaganda purposely, as the Defender was on Ukraine’s coastline and international waters and not near the militarily occupied peninsula.

In April of 2023, a major incident was disclosed to the public, which could’ve ignited a Third World War. In September 2022, a Russian pilot accidentally locked onto a British surveillance plane and fired at it, but the SU-27’s munitions malfunctioned. As seen in the Cold War, many incidents which could’ve led to WWIII or Nuclear Armageddon never came to fruition due to critical thinking or sheer luck.

Work by British Intelligence and Open Source Organizations

British intelligence agencies and open source organizations such as Bellingcat have long warned of Wagner’s influence in Russian society and their illicit activities in Africa. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the CEO of the mercenary organization, attempted to sue Bellingcat for showing his organization’s links to the Kremlin, which Moscow would confirm during the War in Ukraine.

Along with US warnings, intelligence agencies in Britain also warned Ukraine in advance of Putin’s renewed imperial ambitions. When Russia conducted its full-scale invasion last year, British weapons helped stave off Moscow in their goal of overthrowing the Ukrainian government.

Continuation of Training

Akin to criticisms that the US and Germany are facing, the United Kingdom, which is going through an economic recession and faltering governments, has faced criticism from the pro-Russian right and left-wing groups on freeing aid to Ukraine. Nevertheless, this has not stopped the determination to uphold Ukrainian sovereignty. The British training mission would continue with even greater numbers.

A training rotation of 10,000 Ukrainian Armed Forces (ZSU) has taken place on British soil, with an extended 20,000 expected to take place this year. This training has been imperative to battlefield success as many of the troops who made up the lightning Kharkiv liberation came from the training mission. This will also be detrimental to Kyiv’s much-anticipated spring and summer offensives this year.

Though the Pentagon has hesitated and later ruled out F-16s and the Army Tactical Missiles (ATACMS), London has stated Kyiv will receive highly effective Storm Shadow long-range missiles and additional harpoons to target the Black Sea Fleet.

Taking the lead where the French and German governments have fallen in bureaucratic practices, the United Kingdom’s contributions to keeping Ukraine’s government and military intact cannot be underestimated. Even with an economic recession and successive turbulent governments, the British have shown even when the sun sets on their empire; they are still a global player when it matters the most.