Rishi Sunak has distanced himself from Ben Wallace’s suggestion that Ukraine could show more “gratitude” to the West, insisting that President Volodymyr Zelensky has done so “on a number of occasions”.
The Defence Secretary raised eyebrows on Wednesday as he suggested that Ukraine should be more grateful for support from allies, after President Zelensky hit out at Nato earlier in the week for failing to offer a timeline for Ukraine’s accession to the alliance.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Nato summit in Lithuania, Mr Wallace said some US politicians had complained that “we’ve given $83bn worth of whatever and you know, we’re not Amazon”.
“There is a slight word of caution here, which whether we like it or not, people want to see gratitude. You know, my counsel to the Ukrainians is sometimes: look, you are persuading countries to give up their own stocks,” he said.
“And yes, your war is a noble war and we see it as you waging a war not just for yourselves but for our freedoms. But sometimes you have to persuade lawmakers on the [Capitol] Hill in America, you have to persuade doubting politicians in other countries that it is worth it, that it is worthwhile and that they’re getting something for it.”
But the Prime Minister distanced himself from Mr Wallace’s comments, saying at a subsequent press conference in Vilnius that “President Zelensky has expressed his gratitude for what we’ve done on a number of occasions”.
He referenced the Ukrainian leader’s “incredibly moving” address to Parliament this year and “countless times” that President Zelensky has thanked the Prime Minister during private meetings.
John Healey, the shadow defence secretary, said Ukraine did not need “lectures on gratitiude” in the midst of the Russian invasion.
“The Ukrainians are fighting for the future and the freedom of their country,” he said. “President Zelensky wants more military help yesterday, of course he does. What he doesn’t need is lectures on gratitude, especially when they overshadow a successful summit in which Nato is stronger and the support for Ukraine is greater.”
It comes as the Nato summit threatened to descend into a tit-for-tat squabble over Ukraine’s appreciation for Western support on Wednesday despite cheery closing remarks from President Zelensky.
Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Advisor, echoed Mr Wallace’s comments about “gratitude” as he slapped down suggestions the US helped water down Nato’s position on Ukraine.
“I think the American people do deserve a degree of gratitude from the United States Government for their willingness to step up and from the rest of the world as well,” he said during a side event on the final day of the two-day Nato summit.
In a thinly-veiled swipe at President Zelensky’s fury on Wednesday over Nato’s “vague” language about Ukraine joining the alliance, Mr Sullivan said some of the charges levelled against the US were “entirely unfounded and unjustified”.