The UK earlier this month became the first country to sign a comprehensive security agreement with Kyiv.

Signed with much fanfare, President Zelensky described the event as a “watershed moment in European history.”

The document, whose stated intention is “ending forever Russia’s unprovoked attacks on Ukraine,” covers a wide range of areas, from sanctions to cyber security to Ukrainian domestic reforms.

But the most pressing and consequential is how the UK intends to support Ukraine not only in its current fight against Russian aggression, but also any future attacks.

A British official told Kyiv Post: “As the Prime Minister said during his visit, the UK was the first to train Ukrainian troops, the first in Europe to provide lethal weapons, the first to commit modern tanks, and the first to provide long-range missiles.

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“The fact we have now signed this agreement is further demonstration of our resolve to be with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

Here’s what you need to know…

Why is the agreement needed?

Ukraine’s long-stated goal is to join NATO which would give the country protection from Russian attacks under the alliance’s Article 5 provision – an attack on any NATO member is an attack on them all and all NATO members are thus required to respond militarily.

Currently – as Russian troops are already on Ukrainian territory – this is off the table as it would immediately spark a war between NATO and Russia.

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But NATO does intend admit Ukraine at some point in the future and is already taking steps towards it – but it won’t be happening anytime soon.

In the meantime, the members of the G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the US) last year committed to signing individual long-term security agreements with Ukraine.

Since then, a further 25 countries have added their names to the list – Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.

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How many agreements have been signed?

The UK is the first, a deliberate policy designed to not only make a statement of Britain’s intent, but also to get the ball rolling among other countries.

A British official told Kyiv Post: “When it comes to Ukraine, the UK goes fast and goes first.

“As we saw in the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion when the UK provided Kyiv with the weapons it so desperately needed, this policy has been highly effective and sets the standard for other countries to follow.”

Is this policy working?

It would appear so – a few days after the agreement was signed, French President Emmanuel Macron said Paris was working on a new bilateral security agreement with Ukraine that would be announced during a visit to Kyiv in February.

And Canada announced it has already presented Ukraine with a draft version of its agreement.

Others are expected to follow soon.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (R) and Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (L) posing after signing an agreement following their meeting in Kyiv on January 12, 2024. PHOTO: AFP/Ukraine Presidential Press Service

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What does the agreement actually mean?

The agreement can be broken down into three broad areas:

  • Ongoing aid and assistance to help Ukraine protect and the restore its territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders;
  • prevent and deter new Russian attacks and the escalation of existing aggression;
  • support of the reforms required for Ukraine to join international institutions such as NATO and the European Union.

Obviously, a major part of all these, particularly the first two, is ensuring Ukraine can fight back against Russia’s full-scale invasion and respond to what the agreement describes as “a future Russian armed attack against Ukraine.”

The big-ticket announcement at the signing of the agreement in Kyiv is a further £2.5 billion of military aid which will go towards the full range of Ukraine’s military from medical training, to border and coastal defense, to helping Ukraine take full control of its airspace and everything in between.

The ambitious agreement covers a 10-year period.

And the Brits aren’t messing about with what they hope it will achieve – one section states: “The Participants will seek to ensure that Ukraine’s military capabilities are at such a level that, in the event of external military aggression against the United Kingdom, Ukraine is able to provide effective military assistance.”

What does a “future Russian armed attack against Ukraine” mean?

According to Ukrainian MP and Head of the Committee on Foreign Policy, Oleksandr Merezhko, this is one of the most important points in the document.

He told Kyiv Post that although the “crime of [Russian] aggression is a continuing crime,” it can happen “in waves, from a military point of view.”

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“Let’s imagine a situation in which Russian once again tries to capture Kyiv,” he says. “This can be interpreted as a new attack precisely in the context of this provision of this agreement.”

Merezhko said he believes this will have a “political and psychological restraining effect on Russia,” adding: “Let them be afraid of this position, let them think.”

 

Could UK troops be deployed in Ukraine in the event of a future attack?

This remains highly unlikely, though it does commit – in line with a previous G7 announcement – to provide Ukraine with “swift and sustained security assistance, modern military equipment across land, sea and air domains, and economic assistance, to impose economic and other costs on Russia.”

Is it legally binding?

The UK describes the agreement as an “emphatic political commitment” and even though it was brokered under a Conservative government, it has strong cross-party support meaning a change in government is unlikely to have an impact on the UK’s support for Ukraine.

What about the situation in the US?

The UK’s agreement is entirely independent of political developments in the US, but clearly, given the opposition to support for Ukraine in some sections of the Republican party, not to mention the possibility of Donald Trump returning to the White House, any US agreement could face some obstacles as the political situation changes.

The US has confirmed it is currently preparing its own agreement, and Merezhko told Kyiv Post he is not overly concerned about a new president threatening its terms and implementation.

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“First of all, the new president will enter office only next year,” he says, adding: “Even if the political situation in Washington changes, if I may say so, I am still sure that Biden will advance this project and will not leave Ukraine.

“And suppose Trump comes to power, it will be with the majority of Republicans in his party on our side.

“He will be closely watched by the opposition so that he does not do something so harmful to the national interests of the United States.”

Is there a chance these documents could go the way of the Budapest Memorandum?

The Budapest Memorandum signed in 1994 saw Ukraine give up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons in return for assurances from Russia, the US and the UK that it would not become a victim of military force or threats from the signatories.

Russia has since clearly violated the agreement over the years especially with the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, calling into question just how useful security agreements between Ukraine and the world powers actually are.

Merezkho is confident the new agreements will be different, saying the UK’s document is “very meaningful and comprehensive” and includes “very important obligations that are mainly assumed by Great Britain.”

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He adds: “Regarding the content of this document, it contains a lot of specific things: training, assistance in the development of our military-industrial complex, and so on.

“That is, there are very important specific things. This is a very detailed document in terms of specific steps.”

Merezhko’s confidence was also boosted by what Rishi Sunak said when signing the document: “He called Ukraine an ally. When Britain calls a country an ally, it can only be during a war when there is a common enemy. This is already a high status.

“We are no longer partners because there can be many partners, namely an ally. And this is the word I remember Sunak using.

“Then he said a crucial thing, that Britain will do everything for Ukraine to outlast Putin. And he expressed confidence in the victory of Ukraine, because, as he said, you cannot defeat the people.

“And he repeated several times that the UK will not walk out on Ukraine.”

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