The United Kingdom has finalized an agreement with Ukraine that allows Kiev to buy British warships and missiles to enhance its naval capabilities, a move that Russia will likely view as a new provocation as tensions continue to grow between the two countries.
Under the deal, Kiev can use a 1.7-billion-pound loan from London to buy two minesweepers and weapons for existing vessels, and to jointly produce eight missile ships, a frigate, and a navy base on the Sea of Azov.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksii Yuriyovych Reznikov, said, "Our governments have no desire to be hostile or to try to strategically surround or undermine the Russian Federation in any way," but added that, "We are concerned about the strengthening of the military presence and military activity of Russia on the border with Ukraine."
The two defense ministers stressed that, "Ukraine and the United Kingdom are strategic partners in security and defense."
They said, "Ukraine's national sovereignty and territorial integrity is indisputable," adding that the UK would continue "its long-standing determination" to support the people of Ukraine.
The statement was published after Wallace met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during his visit to Kiev earlier in the day, in a show of support for Ukraine amid growing concerns about Russia's increased military presence on the country's borders and as tensions between Moscow and NATO countries have intensified.
Ukraine has been vigorously strengthening ties with the West since 2014, when an armed conflict broke out in its eastern Donbass region between government forces and ethnic Russians.
The US, the European Union, and Ukraine claim that Russia has a hand in the conflict. Moscow strongly rejects the allegation.
Also in 2014, the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea voted in a referendum to fall under Russian sovereignty, further complicating the relations between Moscow and Kiev. The US and the EU took Ukraine's side and refused to recognize the referendum results. They also imposed rounds of sanctions on Russia.
Back in September, Zelensky claimed that an all-out war with neighboring Russia was a "possibility" after Moscow and Belarus held large-scale military drills.
That same month, the US pledged $60 million in new military and security aid to Ukraine. Russia denounced the move, saying Kiev could behave unpredictably and dangerously as a result and it "can only be a cause for regret."
Ukraine is not a member of NATO but allies have pledged to support the country against Russia.
The latest treaty will enable Ukraine to enter into a financing arrangement with UK Export Finance, the UK's export credit agency, enabling it to receive supported financing for contracts with UK suppliers.