October 1, 2023 - 4:45pm

The UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps announced today that Britain is deploying RAF Typhoon fighter jets to Poland, pre-empting a possible Russian incursion into Eastern Europe. 

Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, Shapps vowed to support “our Nato ally from the growing threat of Russian interference”. With Poland’s election taking place later this month, the minister claimed that this timing “is the most powerful way of showing Putin that this Conservative government will protect democracy and freedom from any despotic tyrant who threatens our allies”. 

Shapps’s comments follow an interview published this weekend with the Sunday Telegraph, in which he outlined plans to increase military support and training for Ukrainian forces. While the UK is currently western and central Europe’s biggest military spender, the Defence Secretary suggested to the newspaper that the Government’s current target of devoting 2.5% of GDP to defence is a “staging post” on the route to an even larger figure.

Reiterating this goal at the Party Conference, Shapps said, playing on Neville Chamberlain’s famous 1938 speech about why Britain should avoid intervening in Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland, that Ukraine is “not a far-off country of which we know nothing”. Extending this expression of solidarity to Poland, he stated that “landing today, British pilots will join in exercises with Polish and other allied air forces in a powerful display of Nato’s commitment to defencing democracy.” He added that Poland requested the move.

After initial support, Poland has cooled in its Ukraine stance, a development reflected in its declining foreign aid, while both President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki have in recent weeks made comments suggesting that Volodymyr Zelenskyy should not take help from the neighbouring country for granted. Morawiecki stressed that Poland would focus on arming its own troops, rather than using up a large portion of its defence budget on the Ukrainian military. Duda went further, comparing Ukraine to a “drowning person” and adding that “a drowning man is extremely dangerous, capable of pulling you down to the depths.”

Shapps told the Sunday Telegraph that British troops could be deployed to Ukraine for the first time in the war, and during his speech on Sunday claimed that he wanted the UK to be “at the very heart of Nato”. In addition to the jets, he also announced that hundreds of British troops would be deployed to Kosovo in the next few days to reinforce the Nato peacekeeping mission ongoing in the country, in what he called a “powerful demonstration of our Armed Forces’ unparalleled capabilities and expertise”. 

Fears of Russian “interference” in Poland follow warnings earlier this year that Vladimir Putin has the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in his sights. “As Conservatives, we will always put our nation’s security first,” Shapps said in Manchester, “and that means our support for Nato is unwavering”.

is UnHerd’s Assistant Editor, Newsroom.