"Supplying weapons to Ukraine is now not just our policy, but our duty." Interview with UK Ambassador Martin Harris

Tuesday, 23 January 2024 — , European Pravda

The United Kingdom is one of the countries whose support for Ukraine is still unwavering. No party in the British parliament is advocating for a reduction in political, economic or military assistance to Kyiv.

The UK was the first to send tanks and long-range Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine. In January 2024, it was the first to sign a security guarantee agreement with Ukraine, as G7 countries promised last summer. It would not be surprising if the UK became the first country to allow the use of its weapons against military facilities on Russian territory. At least, neither Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, speaking to journalists in Kyiv, nor British Ambassador Martin Harris answered "no" when asked a direct question about this.

In this interview, Ambassador Harris talks to the editor of European Pravda about the security agreement, why the UK is preparing for "100 years of cooperation" with Ukraine, and much more. The ambassador spoke to us in Ukrainian.

"You will probably join NATO sooner"

Let's start with the security agreement between Ukraine and the UK. It seems this is no longer just a strategic partnership.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the signing of this agreement is a historic step for our countries. And for me, it was an honour to be present when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed the agreement. But I believe that this agreement is also very important for the UK and for European security. Britain has become the first country to sign such an agreement with Ukraine, but there will be more agreements with Ukraine’s other partners.

Meanwhile, there are questions about the full value of this agreement. After all, it has not been ratified by either the Ukrainian or the British Parliament.

The Prime Minister has full authority under our laws to sign such an agreement. Furthermore, upon his return to London, he presented it to Parliament, and the leaders of all parliamentary parties welcomed and supported this agreement with Ukraine. So there is full consensus both in the UK parliament and in UK society regarding our policy of support for Ukraine.

Ratification will come later, but it will be the ratification of NATO membership.

Because this agreement is not a substitute for NATO accession: it is on the pathway to the Alliance. This agreement is for the intermediate period until you join NATO.

But the agreement states – and Prime Minister Sunak said – that it was signed "for 100 years".

These are two different things. The security agreement is for 10 years, or more precisely, "for 10 years or until Ukraine becomes a member of NATO".

So the agreement is valid until one of those things happens, whichever happens sooner.

Yes, and you will probably join NATO sooner.

But this is an agreement in the realm of security. And our Prime Minister takes a broader view, and has given instructions for cultural, economic and diplomatic relations to be built as well. We now have a unique foundation for this, and we will be very powerful allies. 

Rishi Sunak talks about 100 years because by this he means that Ukraine will exist in 100 years! 

Ukraine was, Ukraine is, and Ukraine will be.

We believe in the future of Ukraine.

"Now it is our duty to supply weapons to Ukraine"

Why is Ukraine so important to the UK? Why did you choose us?

First of all, because we are Europeans. The UK isn’t in the EU, but we are in Europe. This is our common region, and we are responsible for its security. 

Unfortunately, there is no doubt that the security threat in Europe will persist even after the war is won. And it will be the joint responsibility of the UK and Ukraine to ensure peace in Europe. 

I think Rishi Sunak also understands very clearly that Ukraine's security is UK security.

According to polls, over 90% of Ukrainians believe that victory means taking back Crimea and Donbas, punishment and so on. Why do diplomats continue to say that "Ukrainians must decide"? Are you not sure that we have decided what our victory means?

We are sure. And I am also confident of Ukraine's victory. 

But I think it’s wrong for foreigners to say what the future of Ukraine will be. Because it is not our responsibility. It’s for Ukrainians to decide. 

What I can say is that we support President Zelenskyy's peace plan, all 10 points. His Peace Formula is our policy. Because this peace plan is based on the UN Charter, and we believe that the UN Charter is very important for the security of Ukraine, the UK, and the entire world. Now this Ukrainian initiative is developing very powerfully. In Davos, 84 countries participated in a meeting within the framework of this initiative.

It looks as if this is another mistake by Russia, which does not understand that the UN Charter is very important for many countries around the world. The UN Charter was a significant achievement after the end of World War II. It confirmed that the era of empires had ended, and the era of free independent states began after 1945. Many independent states value the UN Charter for that reason and also believe that it should be the basis for peace in Ukraine.

Is the UK ready for its weapons to contribute to Russia’s defeat?

Of course – we have supplied and continue to supply weapons to Ukraine. I’m proud that the UK was the first European country to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine: new-generation anti-tank missiles, then main battle tanks, then long-range missiles.

Now that the bilateral security agreement has been signed, it’s not just our policy but our duty to supply weapons to Ukraine.

It is impossible to defeat Russia without striking military targets on Russian territory. Does the UK understand that we may need to use its weapons for those purposes as well?

Currently, the UK expects Ukraine to deploy its weapons to attack Russian forces in the occupied territories, especially Crimea.

The achievements of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Crimea in 2023 were very important and had a geostrategic effect. So I think this will be a priority this year as well.

I notice that you say "currently" and do not deny that weapons may be used on Russian territory.

I was talking about what was [the strategy of using British weapons – ed.], and I think there is also an emphasis on Crimea now. This is not the UK’s strategy, and not the strategy of other partners. It is Ukraine that has to devise a winning strategy [for using the weapons].

"Russia cannot restore its destroyed fleet"

You have mentioned Ukraine’s significant success in Crimea, thanks in part to British weapons such as the long-range Storm Shadow missiles. Some are calling this a victory for Ukraine in the Black Sea. Do you share this opinion?

It is a significant achievement. According to our estimates, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have destroyed nearly 20% of the Russian fleet. You’ve also driven the Russian fleet 300 km away from Sevastopol, to Novorossiysk. As a result, Russia was unable to block the Black Sea ports, and now the western part of the Black Sea is open for Ukrainian exports. 

You’ve created a new corridor, which works thanks to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. As a result, last year you had economic growth of 4.8% – much higher than the IMF forecast. 

So the achievements of the Armed Forces of Ukraine have had a strategic and economic effect.

What happened in the Black Sea is indeed a victory for Ukraine.

Russian mines are jeopardising shipping in this corridor. I am grateful to the UK for sending two minehunter ships to the Armed Forces of Ukraine – but Türkiye won’t allow them into the Black Sea. Does this mean that we won’t receive them until the war is over, even if it goes on for several years?

Türkiye won’t let them in because of the Montreux Convention, which prohibits the passage of military vessels through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles during a war in the Black Sea. The United Kingdom is a party to the Convention, and we support this [Türkiye’s] position. This actually benefits Ukraine, because thanks to the Convention, Russia cannot restore its destroyed fleet.

The Convention closes the straits for parties at war, so Romania or Bulgaria could get these minehunters.

No, that’s not possible either. And this is our position. We will not supply such ships if it does not comply with the Montreux Convention.

"Why should Ukraine be outside NATO?"

Let's go back to the British Prime Minister’s visit. When he was in Kyiv in January,  he announced that London would be allocating £200 million to produce drones for the Ukrainian military. He mentioned reconnaissance drones, long-range drones and FPV drones. Can you tell us more about this? Where will they be manufactured?

We have a flexible approach here. The drones should be manufactured by the defence industries of our two countries working together. That’s the advantage that Ukraine has – extensive experience of using drones. So there is enormous interest on the part of the UK and other countries in working together with you on the production of drones, both here in Ukraine and in our countries.

So they will be manufactured in both Ukraine and the UK?

Yes, in both places. I can’t say anything about the specific number. The process is just beginning, and there are various classes of drones. But I think this will be one of the most promising elements of our cooperation in the defence industry.

A significant challenge on our path to victory is the constraint on the capabilities of the defence industry. How can the world increase the production of weapons, ammunition, gunpowder, etc.?

This is a priority for me as an ambassador. In December, we organised a visit by British defence industry representatives to Ukraine. There were major companies such as BAE Systems, Babcock International and Thales UK. 

BAE Systems has also opened an office in Kyiv. Now we need to create a defence industry alliance and stimulate the production of weapons both here in Ukraine and in Ukraine’s partner countries. 

By doing this, we will create another argument for Ukraine's NATO membership, because if not only our military but also our defence industries are integrated, then why should Ukraine be outside NATO?

What needs to be done for Ukraine to receive an invitation to NATO?

All Alliance members must be convinced that Ukraine's accession is in their interests, in the interests of European security. 

The UK has a very clear position on this: we believe it is in our interests, and we are confident that Ukraine will join NATO. I think the current position supporting Ukraine is very strong. 

Everyone sees how Ukrainians are cooperating with our countries and how effectively the Armed Forces of Ukraine are using NATO-standard weapons. I hope that we will be able to quickly convince all Alliance members of the need for Ukraine's accession.

You didn't mention Ukraine's victory among the conditions for accession.

No. That is now the question – whether it [victory – ed.] will be among the conditions, and when it will happen. 

That’s why we’ve signed the agreement [on security cooperation – ed.] and have already committed to supporting Ukraine. 

Perhaps Russia is counting on the instability of Ukraine's support from its partners. But this is another catastrophic mistake on Russia’s part. Your agreements with the UK, other G7 members, and the 30 other countries that supported the Vilnius G7 statement indicate that our support is present now, will be in the future, and will remain forever.

At the same time, we are also seeing "war fatigue" – not in the UK, but in other countries.

Well, we are not tired (he smiles). We’re very active. 

We are ready for the challenges, and there are many of them. This is a long war, but we are prepared for that, and we are ready to support Ukrainians under these conditions.

Talks about the confiscation of Russian assets have begun. What is Britain's position on that?

I think the confiscation of Russian assets will happen.

I have to ask a tough question. Ukraine needs to win not only the war, but also the peace. We must remain a democratic country after the war.

As you know, this is not my first mission to Ukraine. I was here 20 years ago during the Orange Revolution. It’s been very interesting for me to come back and see how Ukraine has changed.

And I see that very important reforms have taken place, such as decentralisation. This reform remains crucial. I’ve been impressed by how the role of civil society in Ukraine has grown during this time. 

But equally important are the rule of law, the development of the media, and the development of the political system in Ukraine. All of this together is the question of developing democratic institutions, which remains relevant for you, and very significant progress is being made here.

But do you not see a regression now? Opposition representatives who are restricted from travelling abroad are talking about this. We are seeing strange decisions being made by the leadership of Ukraine’s parliament, and so on. Do Western diplomats see this?

I believe that the direction for Ukraine is very clear now: it is accession to NATO and the EU. Undoubtedly, Ukraine must demonstrate that it is a democratic and European country. 

Moreover, your military is currently fighting for democracy, for our common values. Meanwhile, progress and the reform process continue despite the war.

"I truly believe in Ukraine's victory"

Finally, what has most impressed you in Ukraine in almost five months here as an ambassador?

I’m very glad to return to Ukraine. The hardest thing for me is that I’m here without my family and my children because they are prohibited from coming here for security reasons. They are very disappointed, because we lived in Kyiv 20 years ago. My children grew up here. This is our city! But that’s the situation many Ukrainian families are in.

And most of all, I’m impressed by the determination that the Ukrainian people maintain despite the missile attacks, despite everything. I recently visited the Chernihiv Music and Drama Theatre – the one targeted by an Iskander. And they opened a new theatrical season six weeks after the missile attack! So I truly believe in Ukraine's victory.


Interview by Sergiy Sydorenko,

Video by Volodymyr Oliinyk,

European Pravda

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