The new defence secretary, Grant Shapps, said he has held talks with army leaders about deploying British troops within Ukraine for the first time for a training programme.
Shapps, who met Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, for talks in Kyiv earlier this week, said the proposal being discussed would reduce the reliance on the UK and other Nato members’ bases.
The programme of training for Ukraine’s military, supported by 10 other nations, has taught skills to more than 26,500 recruits and is on track to have trained more than 30,000 soldiers by the end of the year, according to the UK’s Ministry of Defence.
In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Shapps also disclosed that he talked to Zelenskiy about how the navy could help to defend commercial vessels from Russian attacks in the Black Sea.
After a briefing with Gen Sir Patrick Sanders, the chief of the general staff, and other senior personnel at Salisbury Plain, Shapps said: “I was talking today 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’ – not just training, but also we’re seeing BAE [the UK defence firm], for example, move into manufacturing in country, for example.
“I’m keen to see other British companies do their bit as well by doing the same thing. So I think there will be a move to get more training and production in the country.”
Earlier this month, Royal Engineers sappers delivered explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) training to Ukrainian soldiers on disabling mines, munitions and other explosive devices.
Shapps replaced Ben Wallace in August for his fifth cabinet post in a year, prompting criticism from some Conservative MPs and former military figures about his lack of relevant experience.
He also suggested that Britain was preparing to help Ukraine counter the Russian army’s targeting of cargo ships. The French military has said its aircraft have been carrying out surveillance over the Black Sea.
Shapps said: “We’ve seen, in the last month or so, developments – really the first since 2014 in the Black Sea, in Crimea – and Britain is a naval nation so we can help and we can advise, particularly since the water is international water.
“It’s important that we don’t allow a situation to establish by default that somehow international shipping isn’t allowed in that water. So I think there’s a lot of places where Britain can help advise. [I] did discuss it with president Zelenskiy and many others this week.”
The UK delivered £2.3bn in military aid to Ukraine in 2022 and the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, has pledged to do the same in 2023.
Britain hosted the Ukraine Recovery Conference in partnership with Ukraine this summer, raising more than £49bn ($60bn) towards Ukraine’s reconstruction.