This is one of the greatest videos the internet has ever seen. pic.twitter.com/fZ2R0OT51W
— Illia Ponomarenko 🇺🇦 (@IAPonomarenko) April 9, 2022
The mechanics of the Government’s Ukrainian asylum scheme have stuttered, and sanctions against Russian oligarchs were slow to get off the ground: talking of which, the Conservatives were exploited by donor contacts of the regime (in the view of some Tories I spoke to though not others).
Furthermore, Boris Johnson’s visit to Kyiv will almost certainly make no lasting difference to either his or his party’s poll ratings or to May’s local elections.
Having said which, some political events are worth recording even if they leave domestic politics more or less unmarked, and the Prime Minister’s walkabout was one of them.
That he was able to walk the streets of Ukraine’s capital at all would have been judged unlikely by many during the first days of the war when the Russian army was rolling west and south.
Ursula von der Leyen visited Kyiv the day before the Prime Minister, and Karl Nehammer, Austria’s Chancellor, came on the same day – suggesting that the capital, or at least a part of it, is now considered safe enough.
Johnson promised new military aid and an additional $500 billion World Bank guarantee to support Ukraine’s economy, but the point of his meeting with Volodymyr Zelenskiy wasn’t the announcement, or even the speeches, but simply Being There.
For all the claims that Brexit would weaken Britain abroad, the war has seen business as usual. As usual for America which, rid of the unpredictable Donald Trump, has led the international diplomatic coalition against Russia.
As usual for France, where Emmanuel Macron, who now looks likely to be re-elected, has been seeking to forge a European response which he would lead. He has failed, but his attempt is less the product of personal vanity than in a long French tradition which stretches back to De Gaulle and further.
And as usual for Britain, which contributes over two per cent of our GDP to defence spending in line with its NATO obligations – the largest NATO spender in Europe discounting Greece, whose military build-up is aimed at countering Turkey.
We’ve trained 22,000 members of the Ukrainian armed forces under Operation Orbital since 2015, and were among the first European nations to send defensive weapons there, with an initial tranche of 2,000 anti-tank defensive missiles.
While the Government was slow to sanction individual people of Russian origin, it was quick to push for sanctioning the Russian state itself, and the country’s banks – cutting off Russian debt raising and limiting deposits in UK banks, while also employing trade embargoes, travel bans, asset freezes and export controls.
In other words, Joe Biden has known that he will be able to rely on Britain, Ukraine-wise. The relationship between the two governments is surviving the strains over the Northern Ireland Protocol and the possibility of Article 16 being moved, at least so far.
British voters seem to want the UK to arm Ukraine without itself going to war, and that’s where the Prime Minister is – moving quickly early to rule out a No Fly Zone.
Which helps to explain why the Conservatives have narrowed the polling gap with Labour since the war began. For while Johnson’s visit to Kyiv won’t make much difference to voters, it should be seen in the round.
The Prime Minister’s standing in our Cabinet League Table is up, and this will reflect a wider sense that he’s handled the war well.
A major Russian cyber attack on our national infrastructure, or another chemical assault by the regime, have mercifully not taken place in Britain so far, which has helped.
The most likely development now is a war of attrition in Ukraine as Vladmir Putin, his attempt to take Kyiv having apparently failed, seeks to consolidate its position in the eastern part of the country.
The doves in the West, including some in the French and German governments, yearn for Putin to be given a way out – with Russia hanging on not only to Crimea but also to Donesk and Luhansk. The hawks would be happy to see Russia bleed to death militarily in Ukraine for years, and are reflexively hostile to a negotiated peace.
I wrote near the start of the conflict that it’s important for the Russian military – not Putin and his gang – to be able to see that there is a way out of the war, and this appears to be the position of Zelensky himself.
“I think that items regarding temporarily occupied territories and pseudo-republics not recognized by anyone but Russia, we can discuss and find a compromise on how these territories will live on,” he said recently.
Were Putin to back down altogether (which surely won’t happen) or to be ousted (which seems very unlikely), we might find whether a quick diplomatic settlement is possible.
Many Ukrainians will surely have been radicalised by Russia’s invasion and atrocious conduct, and it isn’t clear where the country’s political consensus about a peace deal lies.
The Prime Minister’s instinct will be to back Zelensky up, and whatever happens to him during the next few years, he will never forget his lightning visit to Kyiv. “I’m happy, so happy to see you, I love Britain, it saved us, one bystander said to him during his walkabout.
Perhaps some Ukrainians will name their children “BorizJohn”, in the manner of Kosovans naming their children “Tonibler” after the NATO military intervention of the 1990s. Blair is remembered for another war altogether. Though it didn’t prevent his re-election in 2005.