UK will not ‘strong-arm’ Ukraine into peace deal, Shapps says

The UK will not try to “strong-arm” Kyiv into accepting a peace deal with Russia, Grant Shapps has said, as Moscow intensifies its assault on north-east Ukraine.

The Defence Secretary’s comments come after Rishi Sunak dodged questions on Monday about a report that Lord David Cameron persuaded Donald Trump to back more funding for Ukraine on the basis that it would allow the Republican to secure a peace deal between Moscow and Kyiv if he wins the US election.

Mr Shapps told Times Radio on Tuesday: “There is no sense at all in which Britain would try to persuade, strong-arm or otherwise, Ukraine into accepting giving up some of their territory – that’s a decision entirely for Ukraine.”

He added: “What Ukraine does and how it decides to bring this to an end is their business. What I can confirm is that the UK will back Ukraine all the way.”

The Sunday Times reported that the Foreign Secretary suggested to Mr Trump that if he won the US presidential election in January and inherited a stalemate, it would provide him the ideal conditions to make a deal. Mr Trump came out in support of a US aid package for Ukraine shortly afterwards.

Congress approved the long-delayed foreign assistance package late last month that sets aside 60 billion dollars (£48 billion) in aid for Ukraine.

Asked about the report, Mr Shapps said: “Obviously I wasn’t in the room. I know what the Foreign Secretary did say, which is that it’s very, very important that the United States follows the UK’s lead and we just increased our money to Ukraine this year.”

Mr Shapps said: “He certainly would have said to Trump that it’s very important that the United States Senate sees that package go through Congress and that package did go through Congress, and thank goodness because it’s armaments and defensive weapons very much needed by our Ukrainian friends.”

Moscow has stepped up its attack in Kharkiv in recent days, marking a significant advance that could pin Ukrainian forces in the north-east while heavy fighting continues in the Donetsk region.

Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Russia’s renewed offensive in north-east Ukraine was a “wake-up call” because “this was going to happen due to the delays in getting Ukraine what they needed” in terms of military equipment.

He added: “My simple message is to the world, and in particular to the United States now given the package that has passed Congress, not only is it the right thing to do, it’s a lot cheaper to defend and therefore deter Putin here and now than it is to allow him to win.”

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has arrived in Kyiv to reassure Ukraine it has American support.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy and shadow defence secretary John Healey visited Kyiv on Monday to stress the Labour Party “fully backs” Britain’s increased military aid and that there would be “no change” in the support offered to Ukraine under a Labour government.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters on Monday that he did not recognise the Sunday Times report.

The spokesman said: “We have been unequivocal in our position, Putin must fail in his illegal war in Ukraine. We will support Ukraine for as long as necessary to repel Russian aggression.”