UK Politics

UK considering further Ukraine help - Michael Fallon

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Media captionMichael Fallon explains what UK service personnel will be doing in Ukraine

The UK is considering "further requests" for support from Ukraine but will not send combat troops, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has told MPs.

A total of 75 military personnel will be sent to Ukraine in the next few weeks to provide advice and training.

Mr Fallon said the aim was to "build up the capacity and resilience" of Ukraine's forces.

Labour backed the move - but Tory MP Sir Edward Leigh warned against "mission creep".

Mr Fallon said the decision to supply personnel was a unilateral move by the UK, although Nato allies had been consulted about it.

The United States has said it is planning to send a battalion of soldiers to train three Ukrainian battalions.

The UK move had been made in response to a specific request for "non-lethal" support and the UK was answering "Kiev's call", Mr Fallon told MPs.

'Broader strategy'

The objective was to "help Ukraine build up the capacity and resilience of its task forces and reduce the fatalities and casualties", he said, adding that the deployment would proceed "alongside continuing diplomatic efforts" including pushing for greater sanctions on Russia.

Mr Fallon said British personnel would be based around Kiev or in western Ukraine, away from the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Replying to an urgent question from Labour, he said medical, intelligence, logistics and infantry "capacity-building training" would be offered by the UK from mid-March.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The removal of heavy weapons from the front line by both sides is a key condition of the ceasefire

He said a diplomatic solution was still needed to resolve the conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

But he added: "We are currently considering further requests from the Ukrainian government for support and assistance, and we will work closely with key allies through the Ukraine-US-UK-Canada joint commission.

"Meantime, Russia must abide by its commitments at Minsk - that means making the separatists withdraw their heavy weapons, stopping continued separatists' attacks, so that an effective ceasefire can hold, and allowing effective monitoring to take place."

For Labour, shadow defence minister Kevan Jones welcomed the UK's assistance to Ukraine but added: "For this deployment to succeed, it must be part of a broader Nato strategy."

'Bullies' charter'

A number of MPs warned about the dangers of "mission creep".

Sir Edward Leigh said: "The trouble with sending advisers, as the Americans found in Vietnam, and many other nations have found since, [is that] mission creep results in eventually combat troops being sent."

But former Defence Secretary Liam Fox called for the UK to supply arms to Ukraine, telling MPs: "The Ukrainians need the ability to defend their homelands against a much more powerful aggressor."

He said not giving Ukraine "defensive" military equipment, such as anti-tank weapons, was caving in to a "bullies' charter, which has been discredited by history".

Mr Fallon said the UK was already supplying "non-lethal" defensive equipment and would not be sending arms, but he added: "We do reserve the right, ultimately, to keep that under review."

Dr Fox earlier warned the government against ditching its target of spending 2% of the UK's gross domestic product (GDP) on defence, telling the BBC News website such a move would "seriously damage" Britain's standing within Nato, particularly as "we are always lecturing everybody else" about sticking to it.

"I think it would damage our moral authority within the alliance," he said, adding that it would be unwise to cut defence spending at a time when the "international security environment is deteriorating".

Treasury sources have denied reports that George Osborne has warned David Cameron that defence spending could fall below the 2% target of national output by 2017.

They said the chancellor had not written to the prime minister making predictions of defence spending beyond 2016. Nor had Mr Osborne pre-empted any decisions that might be made in the 2015 spending review.

Such reports were "wide of the mark", the sources said.