Britain will stand alongside Ukraine in its confrontation with Russia because freedom cannot be “traded”, the Defence Secretary has said, amid fears Donald Trump may scale back support to Kiev in a deal with Moscow.
Sir Michael Fallon announced new British military training to Ukrainian forces battling Russian-backed separatists and said a Royal Navy warship will visit the country for the first time in a decade.
He arrived in Kiev for two days of talks as the US election of Mr Trump has caused alarm among Ukrainians dismayed at his apparent warmth towards Vladimir Putin.
In comments likely to be seen as a message to Mr Trump, Sir Michael said: “The values of freedom and democracy cannot be traded.”
“Britain is stepping up on the global stage and standing firm with our Ukrainian friends.
“The UK is sending a clear message that we are committed to defending democracy across the world and support Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.”
The remarks follow comments from Mr Trump that he will propose an end to sanctions imposed after the annexation of Crimea.
Mr Trump has downplayed Russian aggression in the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine and has suggested he may recognise Moscow’s claims on the peninsula.
He has said he wants to improve ties with Russia, despite allegations by US spy agencies that Mr Putin ordered a cyber campaign to boost Trump’s campaign against Hillary Clinton.
Sir Michael, who is due to meet his Ukrainian counterpart, Gen Stepan Poltorak, said Britain’s 100-strong training team will now widen out its courses to train the local air force and navy.
British troops have trained around 5,000 members of the Ukrainian forces in military skills including battlefield medicine and infantry tactics.
The Defence Secretary also announced that one of the Navy’s Type 45 destroyers will visit the Black Sea port of Odessa in the summer, the first time a British warship has visited the country since 2008.
The destroyer will be leading a Nato deployment that will also visit Bulgaria and Romania.
America has stopped short of supplying weapons to Ukraine after the 2014 annexation of Crimea, but has supplied money and training and imposed sanctions on Mr Putin’s regime.
Mr Trump said earlier this week that he would propose offering to end sanctions on Moscow in return for a nuclear arms reduction deal.
Barack Obama said “I think it would probably best serve, not only American interests, but also the interests of preserving international norms if we made sure that we don’t confuse why these sanctions have been imposed with a whole set of other issues,” he said.
“It is important for the United States to stand up for the basic principal that big countries don’t go around and invade and bully smaller countries,” the Democratic president added.