War in Ukraine: Rishi Sunak urges allies on Baltic trip to stand firm
The Prime Minister said it was an “incredibly important” time for the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) to reaffirm their continued support for Kyiv, as Russian president Vladimir Putin escalates the conflict with “appalling” consequences for Ukraine.
Leaders of the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) nations were meeting in Riga on Monday to discuss Ukraine’s defence needs while seeking to accelerate their own co-operation.
After the stop in the Latvian capital, Mr Sunak’s whistle-stop trip to the Baltic region will continue with a visit to Estonia later in the day, where he will meet British troops and sign a new technology partnership.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the gathering of the defence alliance via video link, appealing for a wide range of weapons systems including those to defend against aerial threats as Moscow continues to attack his country with Iranian drones.
“I call upon you to do everything to accelerate the defeat of the occupiers,” he said through an interpreter.
“[A] 100 per cent air shield for Ukraine, that would be one of the most successful steps against Russian aggression and this step is required right now.”
Mr Zelensky said millions were left without heat and power after Russian forces hit critical infrastructure in and around the country’s capital with kamikaze drones overnight.
The UK has announced a fresh supply of hundreds of thousands of rounds of artillery ammunition as part of its package of defensive aid for 2023, under a £250 million contract.
Mr Sunak urged the other JEF nations to sustain or boost their current offers, and to provide Kyiv with more air defence systems, artillery and armoured vehicles.
He continued: “We must be clear that any unilateral call for a ceasefire by Russia is completely meaningless in the current context.
“I think it would be a false call. It would be used by Russia to regroup, to reinforce their troops and until they have withdrawn from conquered territory, there can and should be no real negotiation.
“But what we can do is think about that time now, think about what we will do with regard to security assurances.”
It came after veteran US diplomat Henry Kissinger argued the time was approaching for a negotiated peace with Russia.
The Prime Minister also said the JEF alliance must focus on “degrading Russia’s capability to regroup and resupply”, including by being “very strong about calling out” Iran for sending drones to Moscow.
After the gathering, Mr Sunak will meet Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins for one-on-one talks.
In Estonia, which shares a 182-mile border with Russia, he will meet UK and Nato troops serving on alliance’s eastern flank.
The new digital partnership, which Mr Sunak will sign with Estonian premier Kaja Kallas, will see the countries strengthen ties across health, education, cyber security, data and connectivity.
The JEF alliance comprises Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.
Earlier, it was reported Mr Sunak has asked for an assessment of the progress of the war and how UK military supplies are used, causing concern among some in Whitehall the Prime Minister is taking an overly cautious approach.
Senior figures believe the conflict is entering a critical phase with the only way to break the standstill being through massively boosting the supply of weapons, according to BBC Newsnight.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.