The Sunday Times

January 14, 2024


Today President Zelensky sends a stark message to the world: we need your support now more than ever before. Writing for The Sunday Times, Ukraine’s leader describes the coming year as “crucial” for Ukraine, saying: “At the moment, Ukraine needs to be given everything it needs to be able to defeat Russia in this historic battle.”

His plea follows a standing ovation for Rishi Sunak in Ukraine’s parliament on Friday – the British prime minister had earlier announced £2.5 billion of support for Kyiv, including long-range missiles, air defence, artillery ammunition and maritime security.

Britain, Zelensky says, is the first of Ukraine’s allies to sign a security guarantee on its journey to what he hopes will be full Nato membership. His comments come at a critical time in the war, but, while his thanks for Britain’s support since 2022 are welcome, his message is largely directed elsewhere, particularly at America and the rest of western Europe. If the events of the past few days have taught the world anything, it should be that those countries that cherish their hard-won liberty simply cannot take it for granted.

On Thursday, Britain and America launched strikes against Houthi rebels who have menaced Red Sea traffic from Yemen, dropping bombs from jets and firing cruise missiles from ships.

The mission, which will continue as long as our maritime interests are threatened, was entirely justified, despite the misgivings of those still scarred by previous incursions into the Middle East.

Those who value freedom will also have taken heart yesterday from the victory of William Lai, the pro-western candidate of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party, over the island’s main opposition party, which has traditionally sought closer links with China.

Like his predecessor, Tsai Ing-wen, Lai eschews open talk of independence for fear of provoking Beijing, but he favours expanding Taiwan’s armed forces and forging close relationships with Japan and Nato countries. His election, which was greeted by uplifting scenes in Taiwan’s capital yesterday, will have infuriated China, which has already called him a “liar” and a “hoodlum to the extreme”, although Lai, in a measured victory speech, tempered a promise to protect Taiwan from overseas threats with a pledge to “replace confrontation with dialogue”.

The world is a fractured and unstable place in 2024, and after several years of multiplying conflicts, stocks of attention in the West are running low. Sunak’s continuation of our solidarity with Ukraine was received so rapturously partly because Britain is arguably now something of an outlier.

A military aid package worth $61 billion has been held up by wrangling in the US Congress, with Republicans demanding reinforcements to America’s southern border in return for passing it. The Hungarian strongman Viktor Orbán has been blocking a €50 billion EU support deal,

claiming the use of Hungarian taxpayers’ money to prolong the war with Russia is “not acceptable”, although Brussels is hopeful of finding a resolution.

Britain has shown leadership on Yemen, too. Again, it was America, the world’s reluctant policeman, that played the key role in galvanising an alliance into action, just as it has been America that has supplied the most military aid to Ukraine.

European powers, which benefit richly from trade through the Red Sea, should consider what their contribution will be. Zelensky’s words today will also be aimed at them. He will have one eye, too, on events in Iowa tomorrow, where the first contest in the race to crown the Republican presidential candidate takes place.

Donald Trump has maintained a substantial lead in polls. Nikki Haley may run him close in New Hampshire on Tuesday next week, but Trump looks likely to win the nomination. He has indicated that if he won again he would pull financial aid from Ukraine. “I want everybody to stop dying,” he said of the Ukraine war last year. “And I’ll have that done in 24 hours.” Nobody will be watching more closely as November approaches than Putin, China’s President Xi, Iran’s leaders and other powerbrokers in the Gulf.

Now, with autocrats and terrorists emboldened by the eruption of several wars, would be a terrible moment for Uncle Sam to turn his back on the world. Zelensky knows this. He concludes: “If we can overcome such a danger to the international order then we will be able to convince even the most serious potential aggressors that war will be a loss for them as well.”

He is right, and the free world should take note.