British Army Operation ORBITAL, Ukraine

Op ORBITAL: More British Soldiers Heading for Ukraine

Russian Aggression Against Ukraine a Threat to European Security

In a joint statement released today, 21 November, by the British and Ukrainian ministries of defence, the MOD signalled its intention to send more British soldiers to the Ukraine.

According to the Joint Statement, the MOD will “Deliver operational level training through increased UK presence under Op ORBITAL”. Over 1,300 British soldiers have already been deployed on Operation ORBITAL since 2015 and have trained more than 9,500 members of Ukraine’s Armed Forces.

Operation ORBITAL was launched in February 2015 in response to a request from the Ukrainian government to provide guidance and training to the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF). The British Army was tasked to deliver defensive training. Conducted at a distance from the conflict in the east, Op ORBITAL is focused on improving medical, logistics, ground sign awareness and general infantry skills in the UAF.

Today’s statement stressed that Russian aggression towards Ukraine will be treated as a direct threat to Euro-Atlantic security.

Britain had earlier condemned what were called “illegitimate and unlawful elections” held in the Donbas and called on Russia to withdraw its military forces from Ukrainian territory on 12 November 2018.

Russian Violation of the Minsk Agreement

A Foreign & Commonwealth Office spokesman said:

The UK condemns the so-called “elections” which Russian-backed separatists held in the Donbas, Ukraine on 11 November: they are illegitimate and in violation of the Minsk Agreements. They undermine efforts to achieve peace in the region, and they are illegal under Ukrainian law.

These so-called “elections” took place against the background of Russia’s continued violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia is providing arms to the separatists in the Donbas, with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reporting a flow of Russian military convoys crossing in and out of eastern Ukraine.

We call on Russia to fully implement its commitments under the Minsk Agreements, to stop providing financial and military support to the separatists, and to withdraw its armed forces and military equipment from Ukrainian territory.

We also strongly urge the Russian-backed separatists to stop obstructing OSCE monitors, and to grant safe and unhindered access so essential humanitarian assistance can be delivered to the 1.8 million people in need within non-government controlled areas.

 The UK again reiterates our commitment to diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, so that legitimate and credible elections can be held in line with the Minsk Agreements and that this conflict be brought to an end.

Op ORBITAL Extended by Two Years to 2020

During a visit to Marinka and Kyiv in September, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson reaffirmed the United Kingdom’s commitment to Ukraine, announcing that Op ORBITAL would continue until 2020.

In his first visit as Defence Secretary to Ukraine, Gavin Williamson met Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak and General of the Army, Victor Muzhenko, to discuss the threats faced by Ukrainian Armed Forces. He also announced the expansion of the UK Defence Section in Kyiv and introduction of a permanent Naval Attaché to help build Ukrainian naval capability.

The Defence Secretary also met President Poroshenko reaffirming the UK’s commitment to their country. He also discussed the Russian security forces continuing to disrupt merchant vessels trying to access Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov,  negatively affecting Ukraine’s economy.

WIlliamson also travelled to Marinka in the east of Ukraine to see the effects of the four-year conflict in the Donbas region, and received an operational update from the Joint Force Operation Commander Lt Gen Serhiy Nayev. The visit to Marinka highlighted the severity of the ongoing conflict, including its humanitarian and environmental cost, driven by Russian aggression.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

I witnessed first-hand the suffering caused by the brutal conflict in eastern Ukraine – a conflict that is being prolonged by the Russian-backed separatists.

By extending and expanding our training programmes, we are sending a clear message – we support the people of Ukraine and are firmly committed to its sovereignty as it faces down blatant Russian aggression.

Op ORBITAL Training Programme Expanded

The training, delivered through Operation Orbital, has been expanded in 2018 to include anti-armour, counter-sniping and mortar planning. This is in addition to the defensive skills programmes such as the identification of mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), infantry skills, medical care and logistics that UK personnel have been delivering since early 2015.

British personnel have trained over 9,500 of the Ukrainian Armed Forces since the start of Operation Orbital in 2015. The coming year will see a continuing growth in joint training activity with the UK’s Canadian allies as well as initiatives between UK personnel and other nations who have also committed themselves to supporting Ukraine.

The UK is also funded information operations through the NGO to promote fact-checking and debunking of fake news targeting Ukraine.

The joint defence statement was made after a meeting of the Minister of Defence of Ukraine and the British Secretary of State for Defence in London today.

The Joint Statement in Full


The Ministry of Defence of Ukraine and the Ministry of Defence of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (herein referred to as the Participants),

  • expressing the mutual will to continue bilateral cooperation and strengthen relations in the defence sphere,
  • aiming at developing cooperation by enhancing efforts to support peace, stability and security in the whole of Europe and Euro-Atlantic area, given the changing nature of modern challenges and threats,
  • following the meeting of the Minister of Defence of Ukraine and the Secretary of State for Defence of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland held on 21 November 2018 in London

Stress that the aggression towards Ukraine by the Russian Federation is a direct threat to Euro-Atlantic security and a challenge to the existing system of international relations;

Underline that the ongoing breach of ceasefire arrangements by Russian backed formations and other illegal groups leads to daily losses among the Ukrainian military and civil population, and urge Russia and its proxies to commit to full implementation of the Minsk Agreements, beginning with a comprehensive ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weaponry; Condemn the increased military presence of the Russian Federation around Ukraine’s borders, in the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and in the illegally seized Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and the Russian Federation’s destabilising actions in the area of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov; Agree to deepen cooperation in countering Russia’s aggression, malign activity and abuse of the rules-based international system in Ukraine, in the UK and elsewhere.

The Ministry of Defence of the United Kingdom: Stresses complete and unconditional support of Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity; and Assures continuous support for Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspiration, primarily the process of increasing the capability of the Ukrainian Armed Forces through implementation of Ukraine’s Defence Reform programme as outlined in the Strategic Defence Bulletin

The Ministry of Defence of Ukraine confirm their decisive will to continue reforming the Defence Sector in accordance with the principles and approaches adopted in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

The Participants have committed to implement the following types of further cooperation: – Maintain continuous dialogue between the Defence Ministries of the two nations; – Improve cooperation in cyber, hybrid defence and defence intelligence; – Increase UK advisory assistance available to Ukraine; and – Augment the military diplomatic representation of the United Kingdom in Ukraine.

The Participants have agreed to increase cooperation along the following priority lines: – Deliver operational level training through increased UK presence under Op ORBITAL – Develop future capabilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, in particular in the Maritime and Air domains; – Support the change in quality and content of military education in Ukraine, drawing on advisory assistance from British experts; – increase military-technical cooperation, seeking to establish closer collaboration between the defence industries of the two nations; – Seek to support the development of military infrastructure.

The Minister of Defence of Ukraine and the Secretary of State for Defence of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have agreed to continue bilateral dialogue in 2019. The above Joint Statement is not legally binding.

Source: MOD; FCO

Image: Soldiers from 7 SCOTS are shown being recovered by a Polish ME 8 helicopter following a live firing exercise by Mark Owens (Crown Copyright, 2008). Scottish Territorial troops from 51st Highland, 7th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (7 Scots) trained in Poland with Polish and Ukrainian soldiers during Exercise Cossack Steppe in 2008. The exercise is a tripartite event conducted annually by the United Kingdom, Poland and Ukraine. In the light that the British Army was celebrating the centenary of the TA, it was decided that territorials should represent the UK in 2008.