British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps issued a warning to U.S. lawmakers not to take their eyes off Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In an interview with POLITICO during a visit to Washington, Shapps made the point — diplomatically, but clearly — that it would be a disaster if the “fast-moving” crisis in the Middle East allowed the West to lose focus on the need to support Kyiv.
“Let’s not forget about Ukraine,” Shapps said. “It’s really important that we keep the world’s focus there as well. We can do this. We can focus on both Europe and the Middle East at the same time and I just wanted to be here to work on some of that coordination.”
The question of ongoing American support for Ukraine was already fraught before Hamas’ attacks on Israel on October 7, which have dominated Western political debate ever since. A new package of U.S. aid to Ukraine was put on hold after the ousting of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a fact that freaked out Kyiv earlier this month. Shapps will be making the case for sticking with Ukraine to U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday.
“I’m going to spend time on the Hill [on Wednesday], but I think that everyone understands that you do not let a tyrant like Putin get away with invading their democratic neighbour because others around the world elsewhere will come to the same conclusions that they can do the same,” he said. “I think actually, in the end, when push comes to shove, whether you’re Democrat or Republican, Conservative, and some of Labour, recognize that to be the truth.”
Shapps is among the British ministers who have been ringing Middle East governments trying to prevent the conflict spiralling out of control. “Deterrence,” he said, was the main reason why he’s sent military assets to the region.
But the risk remains real that the crisis could escalate, with Iran and other regional powers being drawn in. If that happens, the question will turn to whether Western troops will need to be deployed, too. “There’s certainly no plans to put boots on the ground,” Shapps said.
“We’ve sent ships, we’ve sent aircraft, and helicopters, there’s marines. We have broadened our support in a variety of different locations in the Middle East. Why have we done that? Number 1: deterrence. Let’s not have anyone look at this and think this is an opportunity for us to get involved and stir things up.”
The interview took place on Tuesday just as reports emerged of the Gaza hospital strike. While Shapps did not comment specifically on that incident, he did insist that he tells Israeli ministers privately as well as publicly that Britain backs their right to target Hamas, in a “proportionate” way.
“The U.K. believes that Israel absolutely has a right to go after Hamas, a terrorist organization who’s just swept in and killed probably 1,500 people, maimed and injured many more,” he said. “Judgements about how that’s done, as long as it’s within international humanitarian laws, are for Israel. I’m not going to get into our private conversations with them, but I can tell you that I say the same thing in private as I do in public, which is, under international humanitarian law ensure it’s proportionate, but there’s a job to be done.”