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When it comes to Ukraine, the U.K. is following a course similar to the U.S.


We have a glimpse now of one of the NATO allies confronting Russia over Ukraine. Some European nations, like Germany, have been seen as a bit hesitant here, but the U.K. is following a course similar to the United States.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss yesterday spoke on Britain's Sky News.


LIZ TRUSS: We are offering to deploy extra troops into Estonia. We are providing more air support across the Black Sea. And we're supplying defensive weapons to Ukraine to make sure that they are in the best possible position should Vladimir Putin try to stage an incursion.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt is in London.

Hey there, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I'm just trying to keep the map in mind. The Black Sea - so that's the waters just south of Ukraine. Estonia - that's a country just north of Ukraine, a little north of Ukraine - and weapons to Ukraine itself. What is the U.K. doing here?

LANGFITT: What they're talking about is they're considering offering to double their troop deployments through NATO into Eastern Europe and into the Baltic States, like Estonia. But this is all very low numbers, Steve. Right now, for example, there are just 900 military personnel based in Estonia. And I want to emphasize something here. Both NATO and the U.K. say they don't intend to put troops into Ukraine, and that's because Ukraine is not a member of the military alliance.

INSKEEP: Well, OK...

BEN JUDAH: The U.K.'s supplying tripwire forces to indicate that if Russia enters these countries that are NATO allies, they will immediately have to face the choice of fighting and killing British troops, bringing Britain into the war. That's why they're there, and that's why they're there in those low numbers.

INSKEEP: We're hearing Ben Judah...

LANGFITT: That was Ben Judah...

INSKEEP: Go ahead.

LANGFITT: Yeah. He's a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council. It's a Washington-based think tank. And what Ben is getting at is, yeah, these are low numbers, but the reason that they're going to be on countries bordering Ukraine is so that if Vladimir Putin and the Russians come in, they will know that they will be in big trouble if they end up, you know, attacking British soldiers...


LANGFITT: ...Because that could draw NATO into a conflict. And Judah says something else. And that is the British have been giving anti-tank weapons - thousands of them - to Ukrainians and have provided training for more than 22,000 Ukrainian soldiers. And the reason for that is to raise the costs for the Russians if they do decide to go into Ukraine.

This is what he said.

JUDAH: One is a long-running program to train snipers, which of course could be extremely useful in the event of a Russian invasion or Russian occupation, an attempt to take over major cities.

INSKEEP: OK, Frank, that's pretty direct. A few extra troops...


INSKEEP: ...In Estonia is one thing, but training thousands of snipers for a potential Russian occupation of Ukrainian cities - that puts the U.K. a good deal farther out than some other U.S. allies.

LANGFITT: Indeed. And I think that what the U.K. has been doing here is they want to be out in front. And they're hoping, in fact, that it will nudge, I think, some other allies in Europe to do more. It's also an opportunity for them in a post-Brexit world to show that they still really matter in Europe, particularly on security issues.

INSKEEP: Do domestic politics in the U.K. also somewhat drive the U.K.'s foreign policy position here?

LANGFITT: I wouldn't go that far, but I would say this. This allows Johnson's government to minimize a big scandal that's actually threatening his hold on the prime ministership. It's been a series of what seemed to be everybody's parties during the COVID lockdowns that violated the government's own rules. And this is an opportunity for Johnson to get on the front foot, as they say in British English, and be aggressive and also distract from this issue. That said, I do think Boris Johnson and the British government is very concerned about what's going on in Ukraine right now.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt - thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.