By Andrew MacAskill
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A small number of Ukrainian troops are being trained in Britain for the first time since the start of the Russian invasion as Prime Minister Boris Johnson steps up his military support to help Ukraine fight off its neighbour.The troops began training with armoured patrol vehicles donated by Britain this month, Johnson’s spokesman said.
Britain is providing Ukraine with 120 armoured patrol vehicles, including the Mastiff, which can be used as a reconnaissance or patrol vehicle.The spokesman said Britain, in conjunction with its allies, was providing new types of equipment to Ukrainian soldiers that they may not have used before.
“It is only sensible that they get requisite training to make best use of it,” the spokesman said. “We are always conscious of anything perceived to be escalatory but clearly what is escalatory is the actions of (Vladimir) Putin’s regime.”
Johnson, under pressure over parties at his Downing Street residence during the coronavirus lockdown restrictions, has been at the forefront of efforts to supply Ukraine with military equipment since the start of the war.
The British leader has established close ties with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, talking to him regularly by phone and visiting him in Kyiv.
Members of the Ukrainian government visited a military camp in April on Britain’s Salisbury Plain where they were shown demonstrations of equipment, followed by discussions on how the government can supply weapons.Britain’s military has been training Ukrainian forces since the 2014 annexation of Crimea. They were withdrawn in February to avoid direct conflict with Russian forces and the possibility of NATO being drawn into the conflict.
Since the start of the war, Britain has provided Ukraine with anti-ship, anti-aircraft and light anti-tank weapons, which have proved useful for mobile Ukrainian fighters to use against Russia’s armoured vehicles.
The United States military is also training Ukrainian troops on using howitzer artillery while Britain is training Ukrainians in Poland to use anti-aircraft weapons.
(Editing by William Maclean)