Boris Johnson was Kyiv’s favorite. Now that he’s gone, Ukraine fears what’s next

In Kyiv, this was met with despair.

Ukraine, backed by the entire Western world, has no shortage of supporters. But in Kyiv, Johnson was seen as a special ally. In early April, he became one of the first foreign leaders to make a perilous trip to the Ukrainian capital before returning for another surprise visit last month.

“We all heard this news with sadness. Not just me, but the entire Ukrainian society,” Zelenskiy told Johnson in a phone call on Thursday, his office said. “We have no doubt that Britain’s support will continue, but your personal leadership and charisma have made it special,” Zelensky added.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigns after mutiny in his party

Kristin Berzina, Senior Security and Defense Fellow at the German Marshall Fund in the United States, said that, in addition to Britain’s military support, Johnson’s personality played a big role in how Ukrainians see him.

“The loudness and audacity of Johnson’s support for Ukraine’s struggle … contrasts sharply with the understated support given by German Chancellor (Olaf) Scholz. It was the leader of a major European power, a nuclear power, not afraid to support Ukraine. and call Russia,” she told CNN in an email.

While French President Emmanuel Macron has faced criticism from Zelenskiy, who has accused him of trying to appease Russian President Vladimir Putin, Johnson has always been seen as a staunch supporter.

The outgoing British prime minister is so popular in Ukraine that several cities have already proposed naming streets after him. When it became known about his resignation, the leading supermarket chain Silpo added Johnson’s signature mop of blond hair to its logo.

Opinion: Do not believe that Boris Johnson supports Ukraine

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak called Johnson a “hero” and Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba called the British leader “a man without fear, willing to take risks for a cause he believes in.”

Peter Kellner, a British opinion polls expert, journalist and visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, said Johnson’s allegiance to Ukraine was likely inspired by history and his own political needs.

“Ukraine has given Johnson a rare chance to emulate his hero: to take a tough and uncompromising stance on an issue that is both moral and military,” he told CNN in an email, referring to Johnson’s well-known admiration for Britain’s World War II. leader Winston Churchill. Kellner added that Johnson often tried to turn Ukraine’s attention during domestic crises.

“The Russian invasion came at a time when Johnson was engulfed in scandal, especially over Partygate, and was also suffering from the political cost of rapidly rising inflation,” he said. “He is not the first nor the last national leader to use toughness abroad to hide weakness at home.”

Glyn Morgan, associate professor of political science at Syracuse University, also asked the question: Johnson’s motives.

“To be cynical, one would think that Johnson’s commitment to Ukraine reflects a shameless attempt to divert attention from his longstanding relationship with the Russian business community and his waning popularity in the UK at the time,” he said.

“If one were a romantic, one would think that Johnson’s commitment to Ukraine reflects a very British predilection for the underdog, the plucky hero against the bigger bully. Johnson is a real romantic who sees himself as a hero in an epic. ”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky walk along Khreshchatyk Street and Independence Square during a meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, April 9, 2022.
Vladimir Zelensky and Boris Johnson visited St. Petersburg.  Mikhailovsky Golden-Domed Monastery in Kyiv, Ukraine, June 17, 2022.

Long history of support

Johnson defended Ukraine, but Britain’s drive to help it stand up to Russia began long before he came to power, when Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.

In 2015, the British military launched Operation Orbital, which aimed to provide guidance and training to the Ukrainian armed forces.

The relationship deepened even further in 2016 when the two countries signed a 15-year defense cooperation agreement that emphasized training and intelligence sharing.

However, at the time, the UK was reluctant to supply weapons to Ukraine, fearing that any supply of lethal weapons would escalate the conflict and anger Russia.

The situation changed at the end of last year, when Russian President Vladimir Putin began to gather troops to the border with Ukraine.

In January, at the direction of Johnson, the British government sent the first batch of weapons to Ukraine – 2,000 anti-tank missiles. Since then, a steady supply of weapons and ammunition has followed.

The situation in the war in Ukraine is changing as Russia moves east

Britain has pledged £2.3bn ($2.77bn) of military support to Ukraine since the start of the war in late February, more than any other country except the United States, according to a British government statement.

That kind of help is unlikely to end with Johnson’s departure.

“Support for Ukraine is shared by the British political spectrum – left and right, political and military-administrative classes…his departure will have no impact other than that his successor not be so charismatic,” Morgan said.

But it is this charisma that has made Johnson, and in turn the UK, so popular with Ukrainians, even though he did not support some of Kyiv’s key demands. Like the rest of NATO, the UK has refused to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. The UK has also lagged behind other European countries in supporting Ukrainian asylum seekers by refusing to lift visa requirements. However, the UK has never been the subject of criticism that Zelensky has not been shy about directing others.

While material support is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, the long-term strategy may change.

Kellner said that, like his hero Churchill, who demanded Germany’s unconditional surrender in World War II, Johnson advocated a strategy of complete victory over Russia and opposed any compromise.

“If the moment comes when a negotiated cessation of hostilities becomes possible, the new British Prime Minister may not press Zelensky as much as Johnson did to say that the war with its death and destruction must continue to the bitter end. “. he said.

The war in Ukraine is on likely to take a long time. Without the support of the West, Kyiv cannot defend itself against an enemy that has several times more resources.

As British society faces a deep cost-of-living crisis, a British prime minister who is willing to spend money to help a country thousands of miles away will be critical to Kyiv.