UK defense chief openly wants to send British troops to Ukraine
Newly appointed Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has unveiled ongoing discussions about expanding the UK-led training program for Ukrainian troops, and potentially sending British instructors back into the country, while offering Kiev unspecified naval support in the Black Sea.
“I was talking today about eventually getting the training brought closer and actually into Ukraine as well,” Shapps told The Telegraph after a visit to the Salisbury Plain training ground on Friday.
During his trip to Kiev earlier this week, the new defense chief, who took his post after a government reshuffle a month ago, apparently saw an “opportunity” to bring more things “in country.” Shapps explained he meant “not just training,” but also weapons manufacturing, and he praised the British arms giant BAE Systems for its plans to localize in Ukraine.
“I’m keen to see other British companies do their bit as well by doing the same thing. So I think there will be a move to get more training and production in the country,” he added.
In his discussions with the Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, Shapps also reportedly said that Britain’s Navy could play a role in “defending commercial vessels” in the Black Sea, according to The Telegraph.
“Britain is a naval nation so we can help and we can advise, particularly since the water is international water,” he said, without elaborating what kind of help he offered Zelensky.
The UK military conducted an official operation to train and arm Ukrainian troops from 2015 onwards, which was later shifted out of the country. British Royal Marines also conducted several high-risk “discreet operations” in Ukraine last year, according to one general, but officially London has never admitted to having any significant presence in the country since the conflict with Russia escalated in 2022. However, several classified US military documents leaked online earlier this year suggested that some 50 British special operatives were still active in Ukraine.
The open deployment of British military personnel would be yet another escalation, after the UK became the first NATO country to supply Kiev with depleted uranium shells, as well as long-range cruise missiles, which Ukraine has since used in attacks against Russian infrastructure.
Moscow has repeatedly described the conflict in Ukraine as one between Russia and the “entire Western military machine,” while Russian President Vladimir Putin said last year that there are entire military units in Ukraine “under the de-facto command of Western advisers.”
British intelligence experts were also involved in studying ways to blow up Russia’s Crimean Bridge using divers or maritime drones, according to independent news website The Grayzone. Last year’s attack on the bridge was carried out using a truck bomb, rather than the options discussed in the UK analysis, but in July Kiev used two sea drones in a deadly strike that damaged road section and killed two civilians.
Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused UK and US intelligence agencies of helping to coordinate a recent Ukrainian strike on Sevastopol, Crimea, which targeted the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.