Rishi Sunak builds on tough talk with Kiev visit to show Britain is Ukraine’s cheerleader-in-chief

Hours after becoming prime minister last month, Rishi Sunak telephoned Volodymyr Zelenskyi and pledged that the UK’s support for Ukraine would remain as strong as ever and pledged continued solidarity.

Less than four weeks later, Mr Sunak followed through on that promise and showed UK solidarity on his first visit to Ukraine, announcing a £50m air defense package to protect civilians and – crucially – infrastructure after Russian bombing left 10 million people without power . .

There is also humanitarian aid as winter begins to bite: funding for generators, shelters, water repairs, mobile health clinics and extreme cold weather kits for Ukrainian troops.

Russian shelling destroyed 14 houses in Donetsk – the latest in Ukraine

Mr Sunak’s visit came days after his tough words at the G20 summit in Bali, when he said Russia must “get out of Ukraine and end this barbaric war” and pledged on behalf of the UK: “We will support Ukraine as long as it takes. “

Boris Johnson has visited Ukraine four times as prime minister, the first on February 1, just before Vladimir Putin’s invasion, when 100,000 Russian troops were already massing at the border.

He later visited it again in April, June and August.

The former prime minister is still celebrated as a hero in Ukraine, of course, with a street on the outskirts of Odessa named after him.

And, to be fair, during his time as Prime Minister, Mr Johnson was the war-torn country’s chief cheerleader on the international stage.

So anything less than a wholehearted commitment to Ukraine, underpinned by a prime ministerial visit at the first opportunity, would be seen as nothing less than a betrayal after Mr Johnson’s full support over the past nine months.

Prime Minister Liz Truss was so short-lived that she never had the chance to visit Ukraine.

Like Mr. Sunak, she spoke with President Zelenski on her first evening in Downing Street.

And in her speech at the United Nations General Assembly at the end of September, she declared: “We will not rest until Ukraine wins.”

During her short term as prime minister, at a meeting of European leaders in Prague, she also called on Europe to stand firm against Putin, as Ukrainians feared that support from some EU countries could weaken due to threats to Russian oil and gas supplies.

Read more about the war in Ukraine: Eyewitness: ‘It’s the pure truth’ – Russian group reflects on night-out fueled conflict. The British dodge the artillery fire and evacuate the civilians in a van

Now, across the Atlantic, the results of last week’s midterm elections in the United States have raised fears that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives could deny President Biden the wholehearted support for Ukraine that his Democratic allies have so far provided.

All this makes the UK’s role as one of Ukraine’s strongest international backers even more important and underlines why Mr Sunak is determined to maintain the level of support Johnson pledged in February.

During his visit, in a stirring tweet evoking the UK’s wartime spirit, Mr Sunak declared: “Britain knows what it means to fight for freedom. We are with you all the way.”

Those words will be greatly appreciated in Kiev.

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