Britain has said it delivered two mine-hunting ships to Ukraine, as Grant Shapps prepares to host a visit from his Norwegian counterpart aimed at bolstering Kyiv’s fragile position in the Black Sea.
The summit in London is aimed at building a “maritime capability coalition” for Ukraine – but it will not be accompanied by an announcement of how much military aid the UK is prepared to provide Ukraine from April 2024.
The mine hunters, originally HMS Grimsby and HMS Shoreham, were renamed Chernihiv and Cherkasy in Glasgow in June, and will help Ukraine to maintain a critical route for merchant shipping travelling across the Black Sea.
This summer, Ukraine announced the creation of a humanitarian corridor allowing grain to be exported to African and Asian markets via a route that hugged the western Black Sea coast close to Bulgaria, Romania and its own territorial waters.
Russia had sought to mine the approaches to Ukraine’s ports in and around Odesa, threatening to blow up civilian vessels, but an effective use of missiles and sea drones by Kyiv’s navy has forced Moscow’s fleet further and further back.
Britain has so far committed £4.6bn of military aid – arms donations worth £2.3bn a year – since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, but there is no immediate plan for the UK to say how it is prepared to give in 2024-5.
An extra commitment was expected to be announced by Jeremy Hunt during last month’s autumn statement, but the chancellor was silent on the topic, only recommitting to the existing goal of spending 2% of GDP on defence.
Defence sources indicated on Sunday that an announcement about a fresh round of funding is not considered to be urgent because the existing commitment lasts until April, although the war is expected to last well into 2024.
Ukraine is heavily dependent on western donations of military equipment to allow it to continue fighting against Russia. But doubts have been growing about the long-term commitment of the west amid political wrangling in the US.
Last week, Senate Republicans voted unanimously to successfully block a bill that would have authorised a further $50bn (£40bn) of military aid for Ukraine, plus $14bn for Israel, as the party pressed for greater commitments on the security of the border with Mexico.
A future spending announcement by the UK, one of the largest donors to Ukraine, would have been a boost to Kyiv given the political disagreement in Washington. However, the US remains by far the largest donor of weapons and ammunition, having donated $44.2bn of arms so far.
Britain was planning to decommission its Sandown fleet of minehunters, which date back to the 1990s and early 2000s, of which the two vessels now sent to Ukraine were part. But the UK has sold others to eastern European nations, including two to Romania, rather than scrap them completely.
Ahead of the Anglo-Norwegian summit, Shapps said completing the delivery of the vessels would mark “the beginning of a new dedicated effort by the UK, Norway and our allies to strengthen Ukraine’s maritime capabilities over the long term”.
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