May 22nd, 2024

UK pledges a major increase in defense spending as it gives Ukraine $620 million in new military aid

By Vanessa Gera And Sylvia Hui, The Associated Press on April 23, 2024.

WARSAW, Poland (AP) – U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced Tuesday that the country is to increase defense spending to 2.5% of GDP by the end of the decade, well above the 2% target set by NATO as the alliance’s European members fret about the possible repercussions of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Sunak made the announcement during a visit to the Polish capital, Warsaw, where he also gave details about a new pledge to send arms worth 500 million pounds ($620 million) to Ukraine, including missiles, armored vehicles and ammunition.

He said the government is putting the U.K.’s defense industry “on a war footing,” and described the increased spending as the “biggest strengthening of our national defense for a generation.”

“In a world that is the most dangerous it has been since the end of the Cold War, we cannot be complacent,” he said at a news briefing alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. “As our adversaries align, we must do more to defend our country, our interests and our values.”

Sunak has promised an extra 75 billion pounds ($93 billion) in defense spending over the next six years. The target of 2.5% of GDP spending was a re-commitment of a target set by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2022.

Sunak and his Treasury chief, Jeremy Hunt, had previously only said the 2.5% goal would be met when the economic conditions allow.

Under the new spending plan, Britain’s defense budget will increase immediately and then rise steadily to reach 87 billion pounds at the end the decade.

A decade ago, NATO leaders agreed to commit 2% of GDP to defense spending. Britain has been above that over the past decade but never higher than 2.35% in 2020, according to NATO data.

Sunak spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to confirm the assistance and “assure him of the U.K.’s steadfast support for Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s brutal and expansionist ambitions,” Sunak’s office said.

Ahead of the visit the U.K. government said the new commitment to Ukraine included 400 vehicles, 60 boats, 1,600 munitions and 4 million rounds of ammunition, at a time when Ukraine is struggling to hold off advancing Russian forces on the eastern front line of the war, now in its third year.

The shipment will include British Storm Shadow long-range missiles, which have a range of some 150 miles (240 kilometers) and have proved effective at hitting Russian targets.

“President Zelenskyy thanked the prime minister for the U.K.’s continued support, saying the new military assistance would make a material difference to ordinary Ukrainians fighting on the front line to defend their country,” Downing Street said.

However, Downing Street did not indicate whether the aid would be immediately available for delivery. Zelenskyy has pleaded for greater international assistance, warning that his country will lose the war without it.

The announcement came three days after the U.S. House of Representatives approved $61 billion in aid for Ukraine, as American lawmakers raced to deliver a fresh round of U.S. support to the war-torn ally. The Senate was expected to vote on the package Tuesday.

Ammunition shortages over the past six months have led Ukrainian military commanders to ration shells, a disadvantage that Russia has seized on this year – taking the city of Avdiivka and currently inching towards the town of Chasiv Yar, also in the eastern Donetsk region.

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Hui reported from London.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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