UK walks tightrope to avoid ‘direct conflict’ with Russia over Ukraine

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps candidly admitted that Western nations have no appetite for outright military confrontation with Russia over the Ukraine war.

Britain’s defence leadership is carefully navigating the delicate balance of supporting Ukraine militarily against Russia’s invasion while trying to avoid being drawn into a “direct conflict” with Moscow, according to recent statements from senior officials.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps candidly admitted that Western nations have no appetite for an outright military confrontation with Russia over the Ukraine war. His comments came as he suggested Germany has held back from providing Kyiv with its long-range missiles out of concerns they could be used to strike targets in Crimea – the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.

Shapps’ rhetoric represents the UK’s attempt to chart a middle ground – bolstering Ukraine’s defensive capabilities but stopping short of actions that could prompt a devastating escalation drawing in NATO forces against Russia.

His remarks follow those of Foreign Secretary David Cameron earlier this month giving the green light for British-made weapons to be used by Ukraine for strikes inside Russia itself. Moscow furiously responded by summoning the UK ambassador and warning of potential strikes on British military assets in Ukraine “and beyond.”

This underscores the risks of miscalculation as the UK and its allies continue funnelling billions of pounds worth of sophisticated heavy weaponry across the Ukrainian border. Shapps said the West would not directly intervene to shoot down Russian missiles raining on Ukraine, citing the desire to avoid “direct conflict.”

Rachel Rizzo, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, said the UK and its allies are engaged in a “very delicate game” supporting Ukraine while managing escalation risks with Russia.

As the largest European contributor of military aid to Ukraine after the United States, the UK faces intense pressure to maintain its robust backing for Kyiv. But Shapps’ latest comments signal Britain is well aware of the escalatory dangers as the 15-month conflict grinds on with no end in sight.