Why Is The UK Reluctant To Send Troops To Ukraine?

Trouble stirs in Europe after French president Emmanuel Macron claimed the West would not rule out sending soldiers.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (R) and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in January.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (R) and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in January.
Future Publishing via Getty Images

The UK – along with other European leaders – have been quick to talk down any prospects of sending ground troops to Ukraine this week.

After France hosted a conference of top officials from more than 20 of Ukraine’s allies, president Emmanuel Macron controversially said that the West would not rule out sending soldiers to support Kyiv.

He said on Monday night: “There is no consensus to officially back any ground troops. That said, nothing should be excluded. We will do everything that we can to make sure that Russia does not prevail.”

France’s opposition parties were quick to criticise Macron for his words, with the socialist party leader saying it was “madness” to enter a war with Russia.

And it doesn’t look like Macron’s European counterparts are keen to back him up, either – even his good friend Rishi Sunak. Here’s what you need to know.

What has the UK said?

No.10 did not completely rule out “sending troops to fight”, but the prime minister’s spokesperson clarified: “Beyond the small number of personnel in country supporting the armed forces [of Ukraine], we do not have any plans to make a large scale deployment.”

What have other countries said?

Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz was quick to stamp any such ideas out, saying people at the conference had agreed “that there will be no ground troops, no soldiers on Ukrainian soil who are sent there by European states or Nato states.”

He said there was consensus “soldiers operating in our countries also are not participating actively in the war themselves.”

Sweden, the Czech Republic, and Hungary have shared similar sentiments.

Slovakia’s PM Robert Fico did say some countries are considering bilateral deals to send troops to Ukraine to deter Russia. However, he offered no further details and noted that his government has no such plans.

What did Nato say?

The secretary general of Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) Jens Stoltenberg has shared a very similar message.

He told The Associated Press: “Nato allies are providing unprecedented support to Ukraine. We have done that since 2014 and stepped up after the full-scale invasion.

“But there are no plans for Nato combat troops on the ground in Ukraine.”

Why is it risky to say the West may send troops to Ukraine?

Although the war has been raging for more than two years now, Ukraine’s allies have made it clear that they will not be directly involved with the conflict.

They have offered financial support, military equipment and training for the troops – UK offered five-week military training courses to around 20,000 Ukrainians over the last year – but they’ve always stopped short of offering up their own soldiers.

Nato has also refused to send lethal aid as an alliance, although some member states have sent weapons separately.

That’s because if any Nato member state gets directly involved in the war against Russia, the whole alliance will be brought into it.

A core principle of Nato is that an attack on one member state is akin to an attack on all; that’s the principle of collective defence.

When a Russian missile entered the airspace of Nato member Poland at the end of last year, there were real fears that the alliance would be pulled into the conflict – escalating it into a European war with a nuclear-armed state.

How has Russia responded?

Russia’s response to Macron’s suggestion appeared to reflect most of Europe’s fears – that the Kremlin would see this an opportunity to expand the war.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “The very fact of discussing the possibility of sending certain contingents to Ukraine from Nato countries is a very important new element.”

Asked about how sending Nato soldiers to Ukraine would change the war, Peskov said: “In that case, we would need to talk not about the probability, but about the inevitability (of a direct conflict).”

He said Nato countries “should also assess” the consequences of such a war, and claimed they should “ask themselves whether this corresponds to their interests, and most importantly, to the interests of the citizens of their countries”.


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