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Boris Johnson was Kyiv's favourite. Now that he is leaving, Ukraine fears for its future


Boris Johnson's decision caused a sense of relief in Westminster. In Kyiv, he found himself in despair.

Listen to the resignation of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 6:35

(CNN) --

When Boris Johnson finally announced he was stepping down as UK prime minister on Thursday, after desperately trying to cling to power despite a historic government rebellion, his decision sparked a sense of relief in Westminster.

In Kyiv, on the contrary, it caused despair.

Johnson has been one of Ukraine's most visible supporters as it tries to defend itself against Russia's unprovoked attack, and his departure raised fears that UK support for the country — valued at 3.8 billion pounds sterling ($4.6 billion) million) so far this year — could start to decline.

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With the entire Western world united behind him, Ukraine has no shortage of supporters.

But Johnson was seen as a special ally in Kyiv.

In early April, he became one of the first foreign leaders to make the trip to the Ukrainian capital and then returned for another surprise visit last month.

Johnson has forged a close relationship with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who said he was saddened by his departure.


“We all hear this news with sadness.

Not only me, but also the entire Ukrainian society,” Zelensky told Johnson in a phone call Thursday, according to his office.

"We have no doubt that Britain's support will continue, but his personal leadership and charisma made him special," Zelensky added.

Kristine Berzina, a senior fellow for security and defense policy at the US German Marshall Fund, said that in addition to military support from the UK, Johnson's personality has played a big role in how Ukrainians view him.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky walk along Khreschatyk Street and Independence Square during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 9, 2022.

"The volume and brazenness of Johnson's support for the Ukraine struggle... contrasts sharply with the quiet support provided by German Chancellor (Olaf) Scholz. Here was the leader of a major European power, a nuclear power, who I was not afraid to back Ukraine and challenge Russia," he told CNN in an email.

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

The outgoing British prime minister is so popular in Ukraine that several cities have already proposed naming streets after him.

When news of his resignation broke, leading supermarket chain Silpo added an illustration of Johnson's characteristic shock of messy blonde hair to his logo.

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Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak called Johnson "a hero", while Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the British leader was "a fearless man, ready to take risks for the cause he believes in." ".

Peter Kellner, a British pollster, journalist and visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, said Johnson's dedication to Ukraine was likely inspired by history and his own political needs.

"Ukraine has given Johnson a rare opportunity to emulate its hero -- to take a tough, uncompromising stance on an issue that is as much moral as it is military," he told CNN in an email, referring to Johnson's well-known admiration for the British World War II leader Winston Churchill.

Kellner added that Johnson often tried to draw attention to Ukraine in times of crisis at home.

"The Russian invasion came at a time when Johnson was embroiled in scandal, especially over 'Partygate', and was also affected by the political costs of rapidly rising inflation," he said.

"He is not the first, and he will not be the last, national leader to use toughness abroad to disguise weakness at home."

Glyn Morgan, an associate professor of political science at Syracuse University, also questioned Johnson's motivations.

"If one were cynical, one might think that Johnson's commitment to Ukraine reflected a shameless effort to distract attention from his long-standing relationships with Russian business interests and his crumbling popularity in the UK at the time," he said.

"If one were a romantic, one might think that Johnson's commitment to Ukraine reflects a very British penchant for the underdog, the brave hero standing up to the biggest bully.

Johnson is nothing more than a romantic, who sees himself as the hero of an epic."

A long history of support

Volodymyr Zelensky and Boris Johnson visit St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery in Kyiv, Ukraine, on June 17, 2022.

Johnson has defended Ukraine, but Britain's commitment to help him confront Russia began long before he came to power, when Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.

In 2015, the UK military launched Operation Orbital, the aim of which was to provide guidance and training to the Ukrainian armed forces.

That relationship deepened even more in 2016, when the two countries signed a 15-year defense cooperation agreement that focused on more training and intelligence sharing.

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

That changed late last year, when Putin began to build up troops on the Ukrainian border.

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In January, under Johnson's direction, the UK government sent its first batch of weapons to Ukraine: 2,000 anti-tank missiles.

A steady supply of weapons and ammunition has followed ever since.

According to a British government statement, the UK has announced £2.3 billion ($2.77 billion) worth of military support for Ukraine since the outbreak of the war in late February, more than any country except the United States.

It's unlikely that this kind of help will stop with Johnson's departure.

"Support for Ukraine is shared across the British political spectrum: left and right, political classes and military-administrative classes... his departure will have no impact, other than that his successor will not be as charismatic," Morgan said.

But it is that 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.

Britain also fell behind other European countries in its support for Ukrainians seeking refuge, refusing to scrap visa requirements.

However, the United Kingdom never received the criticism that Zelensky did not hesitate to level at others.

While material support is likely to continue in the short term, the long-term strategy could change.

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

"If a point comes where a negotiated end to the fighting becomes possible, Britain's new prime minister may not push Zelensky as hard as Johnson has to say that the war, with its deaths and destruction, must continue to the bitter end," he said.

The war in Ukraine is likely to drag on for a long time.

Without Western support, Kyiv cannot defend itself against an enemy that has resources several orders of magnitude greater.

With the British public facing a deep cost-of-living crisis, a British prime minister willing to spend money to help a country thousands of miles away will be crucial for Kyiv.

Boris JohnsonWar in Ukraine

Source: cnnespanol

All news articles on 2022-07-09

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