Shapps plays down Western splits over Ukraine amid push for extra funding

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Vladimir Putin would be “foolish” to believe internal political rows in the West were a sign that support for Ukraine is beginning to crack, Grant Shapps said.

The Defence Secretary suggested the possibility of Donald Trump winning the next US election would not necessarily result in the “worst case scenario” of America cutting its support.

The Western alliance has suffered a series of blows in recent days, with support for Ukraine dropped from a US stop-gap budget bill, election success for a pro-Russian party in Slovakia and rows between Poland and Kyiv over grain supplies.

But speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Mr Shapps said the Kremlin should not over-interpret domestic political wrangles.

He said: “It’s very easy to sit here, think about the single issue of Ukraine and frame everything in that context and forget about domestic politics. It’s always a mistake to think in that way.”

In the US, the prospect of shutdowns due to financial rows were a feature of the country’s politics and resulted in “odd and unusual blips in their budgetary process”.

The row between Warsaw and Kyiv over grain exports should also be seen in the context of Polish elections, he said.

Asked whether Mr Putin would see cracks in the Western alliance and be prepared to wait it out in the hope that support for Kyiv crumbles, Mr Shapps said the Russian leader would be “foolish if he  misinterpreted those signs”.

With the US election next year and the possibility of Mr Trump returning to the White House, there are concerns in Kyiv about the continuation of US support in the coming years.

But Mr Shapps said: “I don’t think it’s entirely clear what would happen if indeed Trump won the nomination, if indeed Trump then won the election.

“One thing we do know about Trump is he has a big issue with China.”

He said that in the US, “many experts” would suggest “that you don’t want to accidentally send a message to China that force is OK to use”, because it could be seen as giving Beijing encouragement to move on Taiwan.

Mr Shapps said: “No, I don’t think the worst case scenario is Trump because what then happens would be the real question.”

But Mr Shapps stressed that whatever happened, the UK would continue to “take a leadership role” in supporting Ukraine.

Former defence secretary Ben Wallace has said he urged the Prime Minister to increase military support to Ukraine by more than £2 billion — a rise of 50%.

The veteran Conservative argued that with extra Western weapons, Kyiv could “end” the battle against Russia and expel the invaders.

Mr Wallace stepped down from the defence brief in a mini-reshuffle in August, having already announced his decision not to contest the next general election.

Writing for The Daily Telegraph, he lamented that the UK was no longer Kyiv’s biggest military backer in Europe, having slipped behind Germany.

“We have a chance to help finish this. The Russian army is cracking,” Mr Wallace said.

“We need to give Ukraine the support it requires to see this war to the end.

“Before I left office, I asked the PM to match or increase the £2.3 billion pledged to Ukraine this year, to add to the £4.6 billion we have spent already.”

The UK committed £2.3 billion of military support in 2022 and the Government confirmed it would sustain that in 2023.

Mr Shapps said the normal budget-setting process was being followed for next year’s funding and he could not “jump ahead” of that procedure.

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