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Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Keir Starmer’s British government promises to prioritize the fight against Ukraine

By meerna Jul11,2024
Keir Starmer’s British government promises to prioritize the fight against Ukraine

Britain’s new Labour government will make supporting Ukraine’s war with Russia one of its top international goals priority, the country’s new defence chief said, as he took on a mission to counter Kremlin adventurism and bolster British military power at a time of fiscal constraints.

Prime Minister Keir Starmer’s government, which ended Labour’s long exile with a significant election victory last week, is tasked with strengthening services for Britons, improving economic conditions and boosting military readiness – all at a time when his ministers say government coffers are largely empty.

The British military, a close if smaller partner of the United States, is tasked with ensuring that it can meet global security requirements in this context. That is John Healey, the veteran Labour politician appointed by Starmer as defence secretary.

On his second day in office, Healey visited the Ukrainian city of Odessa on the Black Sea, where he held talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and underlined Britain’s commitment to blocking Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to take over Ukraine by force.

“The defence of Britain begins with the defence of Ukraine,” Healey said on Wednesday in his first interview with a US newspaper since taking office, casting the conflict in global terms. “We know that if Putin wins in Ukraine, he will not stop there.”

Although Starmer has promised change after a long Conservative Party reign, he is not expected to make radical changes to foreign and defence policy, maintain strong British support for Nato, secure ties with Washington and take a hawkish stance on Russia.

Healey, speaking after arriving in Washington to attend a NATO summit this week with Starmer and Foreign Secretary David Lammy, declined to share details of Ukraine’s battlefield prospects in the coming months, but noted that the country’s inept military had held Russia back far longer than expected and had forced Russia’s Black Sea Fleet out of areas crucial to Ukraine’s maritime exports.

He said the conflict was as much an industrial and economic contest between Russia and the West as it was a military battle between Kiev and Moscow. He also acknowledged that Ukraine would likely have difficulty retaking occupied territory by force, saying most wars end with negotiated agreements.

“We need to see how we can combine economic, political, diplomatic and military support to give the Ukrainians the best chance of putting Putin on the defensive, reclaiming territory and putting themselves in a position to start negotiating a long-term peace on their terms,” he said.

Healey also noted new air defence commitments to Ukraine and NATO investments in the arms industry, both of which he said would send a signal to Russia that the West intends to stay the course.

Like other countries worried about what the upcoming US election could portend for Europe, British officials say the continent must invest more in its defence and reduce its reliance on the United States, regardless of whether President Biden or former President Donald Trump wins in November.

While Starmer backed the previous government’s pledge to increase defence spending from around 2.3% of GDP to 2.5%, he withdrew a pledge to do so by 2030, saying the target would be met as soon as conditions allowed.

Elisabeth Braw, Senior Researcher The Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, said Britain’s budget realities would make it harder for the military to fulfill the global mandate the country has given itself in recent years.

“There’s this expectation in the UK and the US that the British military will always be there as some kind of helper or junior partner, whenever the US needs or wants help,” Braw said. “But the UK is really like the poor cousin in this relationship and really doesn’t have the resources to do everything the UK expects of itself and the US expects of it.”

NATO predicts that Germany will overtake Britain in defence spending by 2024, in another sign of change.

“That’s a painful reality for Britain and that’s what John Healey is living through,” Braw said. “He would have to get his priorities straight and basically live within budget.”

Healey expressed hope for reform of Britain’s defence institutions and close cooperation with industry to increase defence production.

On Wednesday, Healey said the new government would review the previous government’s policy on licensing arms sales to Israel. As elsewhere, the issue of British arms sales to Israel has become a controversial issue in the wake of the war in Gaza.

By meerna

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