Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has been accused of “scolding” Ukrainians after revealing he had told them Britain was not retail giant Amazon when presented with a list of arms demands.
At a summit that brought to light rifts between Western leaders and Kiev, Wallace also said he had told Ukraine that the international community wanted to see “gratitude” for its support in the war with Russia.
When asked about the altercation, Rishi Sunak distanced himself from the comments and said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had repeatedly expressed his gratitude. “I think everyone can see how they feel,” he said.
The prime minister said that people across Ukraine are “fighting for their lives and freedom every day and are paying a terrible price for it”, adding that he understands Mr Zelenskyy’s “desire to do everything to protect his people”. .
President Zelenskyy — recounting Mr Wallace’s comments about Amazon and his desire to see “gratitude” — responded, responding he “didn’t know what?” [Mr Wallace] meant” and asked if he “would like something special”.
“I think we’ve always been grateful to the UK,” Mr Zelenskyy said at a news conference. “We have always been grateful to the Prime Ministers and the Defense Secretary because the people of the UK have always supported us – we are grateful for that.”
“I didn’t know what he meant and how else we should be grateful,” he added. “We could get up in the morning and say our thanks to the minister in person… Maybe the minister wants something special, but I think we have wonderful relationships [with the UK].”
Labour’s shadow defense secretary, John Healey, said Ukrainians needed no “lectures” if they were “fighting for the future and freedom of their country”.
“Yesterday, of course, President Zelenskyy wished for more military aid. What he doesn’t need are lectures on gratitude, especially when they overshadow a successful summit where NATO is stronger and support for Ukraine is greater,” he added.
And Liberal Democrat defense spokesman Richard Foord said the Ukrainian people are dying because of the Russian invasion and are demanding “the equipment needed to protect their country,” adding, “It is inappropriate to scold and demand them for it.” that they show more ‘gratitude’.”
It comes as Western leaders sought to defuse tensions with Ukraine after President Zelenskyy reportedly accused the coalition on Tuesday of “absurd” delays in admitting his country to Ukraine.
The G7 announced a new framework for Ukraine’s long-term security, a move widely seen as a way to soften the blow to NATO. This is the first time many of its members have reached such an agreement with another country.
The summit also saw the first meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council, a new forum to deepen ties with the war-torn country.
During a press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Mr. Zelenskyj expressed himself more conciliatory.
When asked later by the press whether the dispute over accession would weaken morale on the front lines, Mr. Zelenskyj said a new NATO-Ukraine Council would give the Ukrainians the “spirit” they needed.
In a tweet, after meeting Mr Sunak in person, he also thanked the UK for its support.
Earlier, Mr Wallace had insisted it was a question “when, not if” Ukraine would join the group. He also argued that a clear path for membership had been set – that Ukraine would join after the war if it continued to make progress on political reform.
But in a briefing with journalists, the defense minister added that he had advised Ukrainians to show their gratitude for the support they received during a bloody conflict that has now lasted more than 500 days.
“Like it or not, people want to see gratitude,” he said. “You know, my advice to Ukrainians is sometimes: ‘You see, you persuade countries to give up their own supplies, and yes, your war is a noble war, and we see in it a war that is not only for you but freedoms also lead to us.”
“But sometimes you have to convince lawmakers on (Capitol) Hill in America, you have to convince doubting politicians in other countries that it’s worth it and that it’s worth it and that they’ll get something in return. Whether you like it or not, that’s just the reality’.”
The Allies have been delivering large amounts of aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion, he said. He added, “We’re not Amazon… That’s what I told them last year when I drove 11 hours to get a list” of demands for more guns.
He also said the war against Russia was going better than one might think, and claimed that the Russians had let “Laurel and Hardy” run the campaign.
He also predicted that because of the G7 deal, “there would be more British troops in Ukraine after this conflict than before”. Sources later made it clear that they would be there in a training capacity.
A joint statement said they aim to create a “sustainable military force capable of defending Ukraine now and deterring Russian aggression in the future.”
It does this through “the continuous provision” of land, air and sea assistance and equipment, the development of Ukrainian industry, the sharing of information, training and support for cyber defense.
British sources said that Britain’s main contribution to close air support would be pilot training. They didn’t rule out other countries offering F16 aircraft, but said the UK does not have any of the fighter jets Ukraine wants.
The G7 will also try to make the war as costly as possible for Russia, including through sanctions and export controls, and hold those who commit war crimes accountable.
No. 10, on the other hand, said that Mr. Sunak “appreciated the courage and bravery of the Ukrainian armed forces” in his meeting with Mr. Zelenskyi. But both made it clear that the G7 agreements are not a substitute for NATO membership.
On Tuesday, Selenskyj had railed against the military alliance and described delays in the accession process as “absurd”.
A communiqué said Ukraine would only be invited to join “if the allies agree and the conditions are met”.
Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andriy Melnyk was also quoted as complaining that Kiev has been “abandoned” since 2008 and must “join as soon as possible, not when hell freezes over”.