Transport Secretary Grant Shapps
Shapps’ visit to Kyiv marked a significant diplomatic effort, reinforcing the enduring alliance between Britain and Ukraine. AFP News/Ben STANSALL

British Defense Minister Grant Shapps made a significant visit to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, marking his first trip to the wartime city since assuming office last month.

During his visit, Shapps engaged in discussions with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, focusing on enhancing Ukraine's air defences in the face of ongoing tensions with Russia.

The United Kingdom and Ukraine have forged a robust partnership, with the former demonstrating unwavering support for the latter throughout Russia's invasion. President Zelenskyy expressed his gratitude for the multifaceted assistance provided by the UK, encompassing military aid, financial support and humanitarian assistance. Zelenskyy's sentiments reflect the deep-rooted bond between the two nations, founded on shared values and a commitment to defending Ukraine's sovereignty.

During their discussions, President Zelenskyy highlighted the pivotal role of defence sector cooperation between Kyiv and London in empowering Ukraine to expand its battlefield capabilities.

This cooperation has allowed Ukraine to deploy long-range weapons, such as the Storm Shadow cruise missiles supplied by Britain. These missiles have enabled Ukrainian forces to conduct precise long-range strikes on targets within Russian-occupied territories, effectively countering the aggressor's advances.

One of the central topics of discussion between Defence Minister Shapps and President Zelenskyy was the urgent need to reinforce Ukraine's air defences. The concerns stem from the fear that Russia may employ long-range missiles and drones to target critical energy infrastructure, exacerbating the already dire situation in Ukraine during the harsh winter months.

The potential devastation to energy infrastructure poses a severe threat to the Ukrainian population's well-being, making it imperative to address air defence measures.

Furthermore, Mr Shapps also met with Ukraine's newly appointed Defence Minister, Rustem Umerov. During this meeting, Umerov briefed Shapps on the current battlefield situation and the immediate needs of the Ukrainian armed forces. Umerov emphasised the importance of focusing on key areas such as air defence, artillery and anti-drone systems.

As winter approaches, these measures become even more critical to ensuring Ukraine's security. Umerov succinctly captured the essence of their cooperation, by stating: "Winter is coming, but we are ready. Stronger together."

While this visit marked Grant Shapps' first trip to Kyiv as Defence Minister, the United Kingdom's commitment to supporting Ukraine dates back several years. In August, the UK announced its commitment to deliver tens of thousands more artillery shells to Ukraine, further bolstering its counter-offensive operations against Russia.

Shapps affirmed the UK's dedication, stating: "Today we've demonstrated the UK's unwavering commitment to Ukraine." This commitment extends beyond the delivery of artillery shells, as the UK has already supplied Ukraine with substantial military aid.

The UK's support for Ukraine goes beyond artillery shells. The British government has been actively involved in various aspects of Ukraine's defence. To date, the UK has provided over 12,000 anti-tank weapons, 300,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, thousands of air defence missiles and self-propelled artillery.

Additionally, more than 200,000 pieces of non-lethal equipment, including extreme cold weather clothing, mine detection equipment and industrial strength generators, have been supplied. This comprehensive support demonstrates the UK's commitment to helping Ukraine strengthen its defences and protect its people.

During his previous visit to Kyiv, Defence Minister Grant Shapps announced a significant guarantee of a 192 million-pound ($245 million) export finance deal for Ukraine. This deal enabled Ukraine to purchase nuclear fuel from various producers, including British companies. The importance of this deal extends beyond economic cooperation, as it supports Ukraine's energy sector and contributes to the nation's energy security.

In addition to discussions with Ukrainian officials, Mr Shapps met with US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin. Their talks centred on aligning international defence industrial output and optimising supply chains to ensure a steady and increased flow of munitions to Ukraine.

Shapps outlined priority areas for support in the coming months, including air defence measures aimed at safeguarding Ukraine's critical national infrastructure during the challenging winter season. The collaboration between the UK and the US underscores the international community's commitment to Ukraine's defence.