What should Ukraine expect from UK’s PM Truss?

Ukrainian analysts are optimistic that the new British leader will continue the close UK-Ukraine partnership.

British Prime Minister Liz Truss
New British Prime Minister Liz Truss walks outside Number 10 Downing Street [File: Toby Melville/Reuters]

Kyiv, Ukraine – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was one of the first foreign leaders Prime Minister Liz Truss talked to since occupying the United Kingdom’s top office.

“Ukraine can depend on the UK for support in the long term,” she said on Twitter after their phone conversation on Tuesday.

And the first foreign leader Zelenskyy called when Russia invaded Ukraine in February was Truss’s predecessor, Boris Johnson.

The rapprochement between Kyiv and London has become one of the war’s silver linings, and Johnson was welcomed in Ukraine as a national hero.

“The UK stands with Ukraine” was the pinned post on Johnson’s Twitter account during his three-year-long tenure as prime minister, and sunflowers symbolising Ukraine were displayed in the windows of his Downing Street residence.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson meet in Kyiv.
Zelenskyy and Johnson meet in Kyiv [File: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters]

Johnson was one of the first political heavyweights to visit Ukraine after the war began, and Ukrainians appreciated it by naming a street and a pastry after him.

They barely noticed the scandal that led to his downfall, and Zelenskyy mourned the end of his tenure.

“We all heard this news with sadness. Not only me, but also the entire Ukrainian society, which is very sympathetic to you. We have no doubt that Great Britain’s support will be preserved, but your personal leadership and charisma made it special,” the Ukrainian leader said in July.

So, what shall Ukraine expect from Johnson’s successor?

“A continuation of the strategic partnership policy and a boost of military and financial aid,” Kyiv-based analyst Aleksey Kushch told Al Jazeera.

The UK is free from commitments to the European Union and is far less dependent on Russia’s hydrocarbon exports than continental Europe.

Under Johnson, London threw its political weight behind the nascent anti-Russian bloc of Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania – and that is something Truss is expected to continue.

“Britain will play a stabilising role in the Baltic-Black Sea axis, Kushch said.

Other pundits agree.

A service member of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic
The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic fires a Giatsint-B howitzer in the direction of Avdiivka [File: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

“Great Britain is trying to build its zone of influence in continental Europe, through Poland, Ukraine and farther into the Black Sea basin,” Ihar Tyshkevich of the Ukrainian Institute for the Future, a Kyiv-based think-tank, told Al Jazeera.

“Because these interests remain, one can’t expect that the new British prime minister to change GB’s policies all of a sudden,” he said.

Other analysts are even more optimistic about her.

“It’s Johnson doubled,” analyst Oleksander Kraev wrote in an op-ed published by the UNIAN news agency on Tuesday. “She has already promised to become Ukraine’s biggest friend.”

Predictably, Moscow does not foresee any political thaws in ties with London.

“There is no chance to say that Liz Truss will somehow improve Russian-British ties,” Russian lawmaker Dmitry Novikov reportedly said.

What is far more important for Ukraine’s immediate needs is the military aid London has provided – and will continue to provide.

Workers collect debris from a psychiatric hospital
Workers collect debris from a psychiatric hospital after it was hit by a missile in Kramatorsk [File: Juan Barreto/AFP]

Often acting quicker than other Western backers, the UK has already supplied M270 multiple-launch rocket systems, Mastiff armoured vehicles, Javelin anti-tank missiles and counter-battery radar systems.

Hundreds of UK-made target-spotting micro-drones improve precision strikes, and the Harpoon anti-ship missile systems London helped provide have already sunk several Russian ships in the Black Sea.

Mine-hunting systems help detect Russian mines in seawater while British trawlers help Ukrainian cargo ships take grain through Bosporus.

Hundreds of anti-aircraft and anti-tank “loitering” missiles have also been lethal to Russian servicemen and equipment.

London’s military aid package reached 2.3 billion pounds ($2.8bn) while it pledged to train 10,000 Ukrainian servicemen every three months at a military base in southeastern England whose location has not been publicised.

“Everyone saw [the assistance] from the viewpoint of initiatives, support and personal example” set by Johnson, Lieutenant General Ihor Romanenko, the former deputy chief of Ukraine’s general staff of armed forces, told Al Jazeera.

“We really hope that the leadership and the initiatives in supplying arms and training personnel will continue,” he said.

Truss, who served as Johnson’s foreign minister, has been instrumental in securing the supplies.

“My message to our G7 and NATO allies today is simple,” she said on Twitter in early April.

“The only thing Putin understands is strength. Together with our allies, we are keeping the pressure up with more sanctions, weapons and ending imports of Russian energy,” she said.

She did, however, face a humiliating gaffe related to Ukraine.

Liz Truss waves as she leaves Conservative Party HQ after being announced as the party's next leader and becoming UK prime minister
Truss served as foreign secretary under Johnson [File: Phil Noble/Reuters]

During her trip to Moscow in early February, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov trolled her by asking whether the UK would recognise Moscow’s rule over Voronezh and Rostov – two regions in western Russia.

Having mistaken them for Donetsk and Luhansk, two Ukrainian provinces partly controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014, she replied that London would “never recognise Russian sovereignty over these regions”, the Kommersant daily reported.

Lavrov ridiculed Truss during their news conference, saying their conversation was like “a mute talking to a deaf”, and Russian media followed suit mocking her.

Hours later, Truss had to come up with a clarification.

“During the meeting, it seemed to me that minister Lavrov was talking about a part of Ukraine. I have clearly indicated that these regions are part of sovereign Russia,” she said.

But irrespective of her knowledge of Russia’s geography, Ukraine does top her agenda.

She talked about the war with US President Joe Biden during their first phone conversation.

They “discussed the importance of continued close cooperation on global challenges, including supporting Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian aggression”, the White House said in a statement.

Average Ukrainians are not very familiar with Truss, who became Britain’s fourth prime minister in six years. But some think that she can boost her own political standing by helping Kyiv.

“We’ll see what she can do for us,” retired librarian Oksana Lipnitskaya told Al Jazeera. “England has always been anti-Russia, and helping Ukraine is kind of fashionable these days.”

Source: Al Jazeera