British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has hit back at speculation that he was considering to waiver on support for Ukraine, after recently requesting a Goldman-Sachs-style review of the U.K.’s ongoing contributions to the embattled nation. But what exactly is the audit’s intention, and does it indicate Britain could be going soft following the exit of Boris Johnson?
What has Sunak said?
Speaking before the Liaison Committee of senior backbench lawmakers on Tuesday, Dec. 20, the Tory leader said he had “committed to maintaining or increasing our military support to Ukraine next year.”
Concern had been raised after Sunak requested an assessment of the war in Ukraine, BBC Newsnight reported on Saturday, Dec. 17, with the focus being on the conflict’s progress and the U.K.’s military contributions.
What’s the audit for?
An anonymous Downing Street source told the BBC that the audit, known as a data-driven assessment, “is about looking at what we [the U.K.] have put in [and] what we have got out.”
The U.K. has been Ukraine’s second largest donor since Russia launched its illegal invasion in February, having committed £2.3 billion ($2.79 billion) in military assistance alongside multiple humanitarian and financial aid packages.
Britain’s help for Ukraine, however, started long before the onset of the ongoing war.
“Defense and security links between Ukraine, NATO members, and other allies and partners started soon after Ukraine’s independence in 1991,” the U.K. parliament said in a research briefing published on Dec. 12. “[That] intensified further when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, but primarily took the form of training and the bilateral provision of non-lethal military equipment.”
“Since Russia’s military operations against Ukraine began on Feb. 24, bilateral military assistance has been stepped up,” the report adds, confirming that “the U.K. is also hosting a training program, supported by a number of allies, with the aim of training 10,000 new and existing Ukrainian personnel every 120 days.”
The report also reaffirms that the U.K. has “made a pledge to match that assistance in 2023.” Yet, Mr. Sunak’s request for an audit has stirred concern in Whitehall, with military bigwigs stressing that weapons supplies to Ukraine may prove decisive in the coming months.
So, why all the fuss?
It appears to have been somewhat of a storm in a teacup. Sunak is likely just interested in seeing a bit of accounting/record-taking take place in relation to the large sums of cash, supplies, and other resources Britain has contributed to Ukraine since the start of the invasion in February. After all, he was the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, so is a stickler for counting the pennies.
However, likening the audit to a “Goldman Sachs dashboard,” the Whitehall insider went on to tell the BBC that “wars aren’t won [by dashboards]. Wars are won on instinct.”
Referencing former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a staunch supporter of Ukraine, the source said:
“At the start of this it was Boris sitting down and saying, ‘Let’s just go for this.’ So Rishi needs to channel his inner Boris on foreign policy though not, of course, on anything else.”
What was Sunak’s response?
Questioned about the audit and the concerns surrounding it, Mr Sunak told lawmakers on Tuesday, “I wouldn’t necessarily read too much into the press reports. Look at my actions.”
“Of course, we will continue to support Ukraine,” he continued. “I think what all of us would want to see is Ukraine successfully repel Russian aggression.
“And it’s important that we maintain support, but also evolve the support for the conditions that we’re seeing on the ground at the battlefield,” he added. “And that’s what I’m keen to do.”
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