British troops could be sent to Ukraine to help train Ukrainian forces, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps revealed as he prepared to address Tory activists.
About 50 UK Special Forces, including members of the SAS and SBS, are understood to be advising Ukrainian military in the war-torn country. Hundreds of Ukrainian troops are being trained on British soil. But Mr Shapps has spoken with Army chiefs about moving "more training" into Ukraine and called on British defence firms to set up production in the country.
The Cabinet Minister visited a military base on Salisbury Plain last week where he was briefed by General Sir Patrick Sanders, Chief of the General Staff, and other senior figures. "I was talking about eventually getting the training brought closer and actually into Ukraine as well,” he told the Sunday Telegraph. "Particularly in the west of the country - I think the opportunity now is to bring more things in-country, and not just training; we're seeing BAE, for example, move into manufacturing in-country.”
More than 20,000 recruits from Ukraine have received training in the UK since the start of 2022, but NATO members have avoided training programmes in Ukraine due to the risk of personnel being drawn into combat with Russia. It comes as Mr Shapps and Foreign Secretary James Cleverly deliver speeches to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
Mr Shapps, who became Defence Secretary in August following Ben Wallace ’s resignation - said he has also spoken to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about the Royal Navy helping to defend commercial vessels in the Black Sea. Last month, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key said British ships could be sent to the Black Sea to clear mines laid by Russia.
While NATO vessels are currently avoiding the Black Sea following a request by Turkey, a change in policy could see Royal Navy minesweepers sailing into the waters to help ease an effective blockade hampering grain exports and pushing up food prices, he said. Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, Sir Ben told military and security experts: “NATO ships are not operating in the Black Sea and one of the reasons for that is really simple - that if they had to grant passage to us then they would have to grant passage to Russian warships as well, and they clearly want to keep the Black Sea Fleet isolated from broader resupply. At the moment, whilst we could clearly play a role with our mine countermeasures expertise, that is not one we are being asked to do currently because of the geopolitical position. I don’t criticise that, and I think the reasons for that are good.
“But clearly, working with our NATO partners in the Eastern Mediterranean, we continue to keep under review the options of where we may - if asked - could go and help and operate, and I don’t rule anything in or out at this stage.” In July, Britain donated two 600-tonne Sandown-class Navy minesweepers, HMS Grimsby and HMS Shoreham, to the Ukrainian navy, renaming them Chernigiv and Cherkasi.