UK’s under-secretary of state for armed forces urges help to Ukraine

Ljubljana – British Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces James Heappey visited Slovenia on Thursday to discuss the war in Ukraine with Slovenian officials. In an interview with the STA he urged as much international support as possible to help Ukraine, including in its efforts to restore its territorial integrity.

Heappey visited Slovenia as part of his tour that also included the Czech Republic and Slovakia and was aimed at making the case for helping Ukraine.

He met in Ljubljana Andrej Benedejčič, state secretary in the prime minister’s office who is charge of national and external security, as well as Damir Črnčec, Defence Ministry state secretary, the UK Embassy in Ljubljana said.

Heappey mainly talked the current and potential future developments in Ukraine with both Benedejčič and Črnčec, but they also discussed preparations for a NATO summit that will be held in Madrid at the end of this month.

After the new Slovenian government took office, it was important to “come and check that everything is still seen in a similar way with regards to the future of the [NATO] alliance and the strategic concept, and Slovenia’s role within all of that,” he told the STA.

The aim of the visit was not to pass any judgements on Slovenian domestic politics, the British official said. “Fundamentally, Slovenia is a country that understands the value of freedom and democracy, it understands that NATO is an alliance that has guaranteed that freedom and democracy for a number of decades already.

“And it understands that NATO stands as a peaceful defensive alliance; its very existence is to ensure peace on this continent. I think that the Slovenian government is as fundamentally committed to that principle as it ever has been,” he said.

Commenting on the current battle for Ukraine’s Donbas region, Heappey said that “it is still very much a very live fight”.

“Some of the mistakes that Russia made earlier on in not achieving a superiority and in trying to advance concurrently on seven separate axes meant that the fight in the Donbas is now much more evenly matched than it would have otherwise been. But unmistakably, the Russians are making advances.”

What this means for the international community is that it needs to continue to support Ukraine as much as possible, he noted, pointing to the UK’s and US’s recent decisions to send multiple-launch rocket systems to the war-stricken country.

Moreover, the international community should look at what sort of “longer-term commitments” it can make to Ukraine to help it restore its territory, he said.

When it comes to discussions on a potential territorial compromise to save face for Russian President Vladimir Putin, the UK’s stance on this is clear: “President Putin decided to invade a sovereign country. Ukraine was living peacefully, democratically within it own borders. And President Putin changed that. That means [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelensky gets to choose the circumstances in which this ends.”

The UK remains committed to providing Ukrainian armed forces with as much support as possible, as well as urging other countries to do the same.

The benefits of the international community’s support are visible, Heappey said. “Slovenia is a country that should hold its head high for the support that it has offered to Ukraine,” he added, hopeful that in the months ahead this will remain the case.

Future developments will also depend on the situation in Russia. This country is “losing thousands upon thousands of its people each month”, and “no matter how hard the Kremlin tries [to conceal this] the Russian people will find out how costly this conflict has been”.

It is then for the Russian people to judge whether the cost of Putin’s hubris is worth the lives of all these soldiers, he noted.

Heappey is against any moves, such as NATO’s direct involvement in this conflict, that would only fuel disinformation by Putin that the West is trying to interfere in Russia’s business and that NATO is the aggressor in this.

“Right from the very beginning we’ve been clear that this is Ukraine’s fight. We want to contain the war in Ukraine. We would do everything we can to support Ukraine in defending its territory and pushing the Russians backwards, but fundamentally, this must not, cannot turn into a continental war between NATO and Russia,” he said.