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Defence Secretary plans Ukraine training move ‘in country'

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps (PA)
Rob Freeman, PA

Increased British military training of Ukrainian soldiers could move into the war-torn country under plans revealed by new Defence Secretary Grant Shapps.

Mr Shapps said he has spoken with Army chiefs about moving “more training” into Ukraine and called on British defence firms to set up production in the country.

Talking to The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Shapps – who took over the defence portfolio from Ben Wallace at the end of August – said he has also spoken to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky about the Royal Navy helping to defend commercial vessels in the Black Sea.

And he said Britain was looking for ways to help Ukraine get in shape for membership of Nato.

Russian invasion of Ukraine
Screen grab taken from video posted on the X feed of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of an audience he held with Defence Secretary Grant Shapps in Kyiv on Thursday (PA)

Mr Shapps visited a military base on Salisbury Plain on Friday where he was briefed by General Sir Patrick Sanders, Chief of the General Staff, and other senior figures.

He said: “I was talking about eventually getting the training brought closer and actually into Ukraine as well.

“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.

“I’m keen to see other British companies do their bit as well by doing the same thing.”

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.

The Defence Secretary said he had spoken to Mr Zelensky on Wednesday and hinted Britain could play a more active role in the Black Sea, where Russia has targeted cargo ships.

Royal Navy shadow Russian Navy task force
HMS Westminster watching Cruiser Marshal Ustinov in the Black Sea in September 2022 (Royal Navy, PA)

“Britain is a naval nation so we can help and we can advise, particularly since the water is international water,” he said.

“It’s important we don’t allow a situation to establish by default that somehow international shipping isn’t allowed in that water.

“There’s a lot of places where Britain can help advise.”

Ahead of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Mr Shapps told the Telegraph that Britain should reinstate former prime minister Liz Truss’s pledge to increase defence spending to 3% of GDP.

“I think it’s really important that we understand that freedom isn’t free,” he said.

“You have to pay for it and it also keeps us prosperous, not only because we keep out invaders, but we also help shape the world around us and do good in the world.”

He added that not reconsidering plans for the HS2 rail line following the costs from the pandemic and war in Ukraine would be “pretty much irresponsible” and ruling out diversity quotas in the military, he said migrants to the UK should learn English.

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