How many British troops could help Ukraine and where are they stationed?

Nato allies under no treaty obligation to defend non-member state but UK does have forces in Baltic states and Poland and senior Tories already pressuring Boris Johnson on intervention

Putin's ‘hideous venture’ must ‘end in failure’ as Johnson hints at arms for resistance

Vladimir Putin has commenced the invasion of neighbouring Ukraine that the 130,000-strong gathering of soldiers at the border between the two nations has threatened since early December.

The Kremlin had consistently denied it had any intention of seizing Ukraine or toppling its government in Kyiv, instead humouring the diplomatic efforts of US secretary of state Antony Blinken, French president Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor Olaf Scholz and UK foreign secretary Liz Truss, all of whom visited Moscow to implore Mr Putin to find a peaceful resolution to the tensions, ultimately to no avail.

The situation escalated dramatically on Monday when Russia moved to answer appeals for recognition from two pro-Russian breakaway states in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine – the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) – after their respective leaders, Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik, implored him for military and financial aid

The Kremlin’s security council then swiftly voted in favour of acknowledging the independence of those quasi-states, which they claimed on 12 May 2014 in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Doing so enabled Russia to advance its armed forces into territory otherwise considered Ukrainian soil in the interest of protecting its allies, an act that drew savage condemnation from the West and the announcement of sanctions against Russian banks and businessmen, as well as the regulatory blocking of the new Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline to Germany, gestures met with a sneer by Mr Putin’s inner circle.

All of which proved to be a mere prelude to the president’s announcement of his “special military operation” to bring about what he called the “demilitarisation and de-Nazification” of Ukraine, a country whose ambitions towards joining Nato he so abhores and whose removal of Russia-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych in a wave of popular mass protests in 2014 he still bitterly resents.

Adding his voice to the storm of disapproval on Thursday was UK prime minister Boris Johnson, who called Mr Putin “a dictator” in a televised address of his own, denouncing the coming “tidal wave of violence against a fellow Slavic people” and declaring: “Our mission is clear. Diplomatically, politically, economically – and eventually, militarily – this hideous and barbaric venture of Vladimir Putin must end in failure.”

So far, the UK and its fellow Nato members have ruled out putting troops on the ground because Ukraine is not currently part of the military alliance but several of Mr Johnson’s own Conservative MPs, including David Davis and Tobias Ellwood, are already calling for Britain to help enforce a no-fly zone or even provide air support to Ukraine in its fightback against Russian aggression.

Just moments after Mr Johnson’s address aired, however, a Downing Street spokesman reiterated that the UK will not be intervening militarily beyond continuing to boost Ukrainian resources.

“Our expectation is that the Ukrainian people will fight, will engage with Russian forces. We are providing military, defensive military capability,” he said.

The UK has played a crucial role in training the Ukrainian armed forces since the events of 2014, launching Operation Orbital the following year, an initiative dedicated to “non-lethal training and capacity building”.

Five years later, in August 2020, the Ministry of Defence announced a further multinational maritime training programme intended to bolster the Ukrainian Navy in the Black Sea, which, along with Orbital, has trained 22,000 Ukrainian military personnel so far, according to a House of Commons research briefing.

However, UK armed forces minister James Heappey announced on 12 February that British officers involved in the training would be brought home with immediate effect given the imminent threat of war.

In response to the growing threat from Russia in the New Year, the UK began to support Kyiv by supplying lethal weapons for the first time, supplementing the country’s existing stockpile of small arms like rifles and AK-47s with “self-defence” weapons including infra-red guided Javelin anti-tank missiles and shoulder-launched Next Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapons.

Britain has donated £2.2m worth of firepower to Ukraine since 2015, according to the official data.

It has also, along with the US, helped the country by providing military intelligence and by helping it to tackle the considerable cyber-threat posed by Russian hackers.

This map shows major cities in Ukraine as well as Moscow-backed separatist regions. As of early this week, rebels held only parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions highlighted

While the Nato allies have so far ruled out committing combat soldiers to the Ukrainian resistnace, the UK does have peacekeeping forces stationed in nearby Baltic states that are members of the alliance, who could, theoretically, be mobilised against Russia in the event of a change of policy.

A 2016 Nato Summit in Warsaw established the conditions for the founding of an enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) of alliance forces in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, all of which are on Russia’s doorstep, in the interest of strengthening wider Euro-Atlantic security.

Around 900 British Army soldiers are deployed to those Baltic states alongside other foreign troops from Denmark and France as part of the eFP.

The UK meanwhile announced on 7 February that it was sending 350 soldiers to Poland, adding to the 250 UK Nato troops and engineers already in situ, and placing another 1,000 on standby in order to stand in solidarity with its ally and help out in the event that it faces an influx of refugees from Ukraine, as now appears to be taking place.

That decision was followed by another announcement on 17 February that the UK would be doubling its troop presence in Estonia, sending out the Royal Welsh battlegroup from bases in Britain and in Sennelager, Germany, as well as additional equipment like tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.

The new kit included Apache helicopters, which would be conducting exercises in Eastern Europe, four additional Typhoon jets based in Cyprus but tasked with patrolling the skies over the same region, and the warships HMS Trent and HMS Diamond to patrol the eastern Mediterranean.

UK defence secretary Ben Wallace said at the time: “Alongside our Nato allies, we are deploying troops and assets on land, sea and air to bolster European defences in response to the build-up of Russian military forces on the border of Ukraine.

“Nato and our allies have been clear that an invasion of Ukraine will be met with severe consequences.”

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