What The UK Is Doing To Help Ukraine – And Where It's Falling Short

Pressure on Boris Johnson and other Western leaders to go harder against Russia.
HuffPost UK

Boris Johnson is pushing the international community to inflict harsh financial pain on Russia following the catastrophic invasion of Ukraine.

The prime minister wants western allies to hit president Vladimir Putin where it hurts – by booting him out of an international banking system.

He will use an emergency Nato summit on Friday to increase pressure on allies to freeze Russia out.

But Johnson is facing resistance from other nations who fear their own economies could be hurt by such punitive measures.

And despite urging the international community to go further, Johnson is facing criticism for not doing enough to punish oligarchs with links to the Kremlin.

Here, HuffPost UK runs you through what the UK has done so far and the serious reasons why we cannot put boots on the ground in Ukraine.

Demonstrators gather outside of Downing Street in London February, 24, 2022.
Demonstrators gather outside of Downing Street in London February, 24, 2022.
Andrew Aitchison via Getty Images

Sanctioning Oligarchs, Banks And Businesses

Johnson slapped a raft of sanctions on Russia in two separate announcements this week, although critics argued both times he should have gone further.

The first announcement was made on Tuesday in response to fears that Putin was hell bent on a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Johnson described them as the UK’s “first barrage” of sanctions and they included measures against three wealthy “cronies” of Putin – Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg and Igor Rotenberg.

Punitive sanctions were also placed on five Russian banks – Rossiya, IS, General, Promsvyazbank and the Black Sea Bank.

The sanctions include UK asset freezes, a travel ban and prohibition on British individuals and businesses dealing with them.

But on Thursday morning the world woke up to the devastating news that Putin had launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, sending troops, missiles and bombs across the border.

Johnson condemned Russia’s actions as “hideous and barbaric” and vowed that the west would agree “a massive package of economic sanctions designed in time to hobble the Russian economy”.

Following discussions between ministers and their western allies, Johnson announced a second suite of sanctions later that day.

They amounted to ten further punitive measures, including an asset freeze on all major Russian banks, legislation to stop Russian companies raising finance in the UK and sanctions against more than 100 Russian individuals, entities and subsidiaries.

They also banned Russian airline Aeroflot from landing in the UK and outlined a new law limiting the amount of money Russian nationals could deposit in UK bank accounts.

However, Johnson is facing calls, including from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, to strengthen his package of measures.

Tory MP Julian Sturdy said the government could go “further and faster” and that sanctions should apply to “any nation that supports Russia”.

“The message must be clear – if you align yourself with Putin’s evil acts then you will be treated as an enemy of peace,” he added.

Meanwhile, another Tory MP Jesse Norman asked the prime minister to look at sanctions on Russian involvement in football, suggesting UEFA can go “much further” to ban the country’s clubs from international competition.

Crucially, the UK has vowed to work with allies to limit Russian access to the Swift international payment system - however this is proved to be a bone of contention between Western allies.

What Is The Swift Banking System?

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication is the main secure messaging system banks use to make quick and secure cross-border payments.

Johnson argues that banning Russia from Swift would harm the country’s economy because transactions would face delays and added costs.

While levelling sanctions against Putin are symbolic, a Swift ban could really hit him where it hurts.

“We will continue to work with allies to try and cut Russia off from Swift.”

- A spokesman for Boris Johnson

EU leaders have, however, held back from imposing the most damaging sanction on Russia.

Johnson is understood to have encouraged other world leaders to act during a speech to the G7, but Canada’s Justin Trudeau is thought to be the only other leader to express support for finding a way to enforce the ban.

The prime minister is expected to use an emergency Nato summit today to increase pressure on allies to freeze Russia out of Swift.

But many governments fear it would hurt their own economies and companies because buying oil and gas from Russia, for example, would be disrupted.

Germany is thought to be resisting a Swift ban and France’s finance minister said on Friday that it would only be used as a last resort.

Military Aid

The UK government is contributing to Nato’s efforts in eastern Europe on the land, sea and in the air.

The UK has doubled the number of personnel in Estonia and sent additional equipment such as tanks and armoured fighting vehicles. Apache helicopters have also been sent to conduct exercises with our Allies and partners in Eastern Europe.

Four additional UK Typhoon have been sent to patrol the skies with Nato Allies in Eastern Europe.

UK warship HMS Trent is conducting patrols in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea alongside Allies from Canada, Italy, Spain and Turkey.

“We are deploying troops and assets on land, sea and air to bolster European defences in response to the build-up of Russian military forces on the border of Ukraine.”

- UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace

Meanwhile, HMS Diamond was also due to head to the Eastern Mediterranean to join up with Nato allies.

Some 350 Royal Marines and 45 Commandos have been sent to Poland and 1,000 more British personnel are ready in the UK to support a humanitarian response, if needed.

The UK has supplied Ukraine with light, anti-armour, defensive weapon systems as well as an additional defensive package of body armour, helmets and combat boots.

The UK is Europe’s largest contributor to Nato and has deployed more troops to their Enhanced Forward Presence than any other ally, the Ministry of Defence said.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the UK cannot necessarily disclose all the support it is offering Ukraine for security reasons - something a defence minister hinted at this morning.

Four Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4 arrived at RAF Akrotiri after transiting from the UK.
Four Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4 arrived at RAF Akrotiri after transiting from the UK.
Cpl Will Drummee RAF via PA Media


It might not be as expensive or effective as arms or sanctions, but, the UK has been showing solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian flag has been hoisted over 10 Downing Street and the whole building was lit up on Thursday night in the colours of the flag.

Boris Johnson has been speaking to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and assured him of the “unwavering support” of the UK.

Separately, foreign secretary Liz Truss kicked the Russian ambassador out of her office during “heated” talks over the crisis in Ukraine.

“Liz Truss kicked him out early,” a source told Sky News.

“Said he should be ashamed of himself, that Russia has lied repeatedly and lost its last shred of credibility with the international community.”

Downing Street after Putin invaded Ukraine.
Downing Street after Putin invaded Ukraine.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

What The UK Is Not Doing?

The UK is not putting boots on the ground or taking an active role in Ukraine because they fear it could risk full-scale war with Russia.

Ukraine is not a Nato member – but it has requested membership.

As armed forces minister James Heappey explained to the House of Commons today: “We must all in this house be clear that British and Nato troops should not, must not, play an active role in Ukraine.

“We must all be clear what the risks of miscalculation could be, and how existential that could very quickly become if people miscalculate and things escalate unnecessarily.”

According to Article 5 of the Nato constitution, which decrees that an attack on one member is an attack on them all, this would lead to war between Russia and the west.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace also explained that if the UK was to attack a Russian aircraft: “We would have a war across Europe because we are a Nato ally, Russia would attack us, Nato would be triggered under Article 5 and we would have a war.”

We might not be able to go toe to toe with the Russians, but Conservative MPs have called for the UK to increase military aid to Ukraine, including the former cabinet minister David Davis.

He tweeted: “If we do not provide military support, more than 40 million Ukrainians will go from living in a democracy to living under a brutal dictatorship.”

Tobias Ellwood, chair of the defence select committee, also said a Nato division should have been stationed in Ukraine as a deterrent.


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