Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he 'doesn't understand Ben Wallace's claim that Ukraine should be more 'grateful' to NATO

12 July 2023, 17:58

Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he doesn't know what Ben Wallace meant
Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he doesn't know what Ben Wallace meant. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that he doesn't understand how he could be more grateful, after UK defence secretary Ben Wallace said that Ukraine should show greater recognition for the aid it's been given by NATO in its fight against Russia.

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Speaking at the NATO summit in Lithuania earlier on Wednesday, Mr Wallace told President Zelenskyy to display more “gratitude” if he wants allied countries to continue sending weapons to Ukraine.

Mr Zelenskyy hit back, saying: "I don't clearly understand the questions. We were always grateful to the UK, to the prime ministers and to the minister of defence."

Mr Zelenskyy said British people have "always supported" his country's war effort against the Russian invasion, adding that he was "grateful".

He went on: "I didn't know what he [Mr Wallace] meant and how else I should express my words of gratitude."

Joking, Mr Zelenskyy added: "We could get up in the morning and express our words of gratitude personally to the minister."We are grateful to the UK."

NATO Summit in Vilnius
NATO Summit in Vilnius. Picture: Getty

Mr Wallace had also earlier hit out at Ukraine's weapons "wishlist" as he urged the country's leader to show more appreciation for Western military aid.

Mr Zelenskyy complained on Tuesday that his country had not been issued a firm timetable or set of conditions for joining Nato.

“Whether we like it or not, people want to see a bit of gratitude,” Wallace said at a briefing of the Nato summit in Vilnius, when asked about the Ukrainian president’s comments that it was “absurd” for Kyiv to be told it would be welcome in the alliance but not given a date or exact conditions.

Mr Wallace at the summit this week
Mr Wallace at the summit this week. Picture: Getty

Wallace revealed at the briefing that he had travelled to Ukraine last year to be presented with a shopping list of weapons. “You know, we’re not Amazon,” he said. “I told them that last year, when I drove 11 hours to be given a list.”

But the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has rejected Mr Wallace's calls for Mr Zelenskyy to show more gratitude, saying the Ukrainian president had done so repeatedly.

"President Zelenskyy has expressed his gratitude for what we have done on a number of occasions, not least in his incredibly moving address that he made to Parliament earlier this year and he has done so again to me, as he has done countless times when I have met him," Mr Sunak said.

"So I know that he and his people are incredibly grateful for the support we have shown, the welcome that we have provided to many Ukrainian families, but also the leadership we have shown throughout this conflict."

But Mr Sunak acknowledged "people across Ukraine are fighting for their lives and freedom every single day and paying a terrible price for it" so he understood Mr Zelenskyy's "desire to do everything he can to protect his people".

Read more: Plan unveiled to bring Ukraine 'closer' to Nato alliance as world leaders hold talks in Lithuania

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Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the end of a joint press conference on the second day of the 2023 NATO Summit in Vilnius
Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the end of a joint press conference on the second day of the 2023 NATO Summit in Vilnius. Picture: Getty
Day 2 of Nato summit in Vilnius, Lithuania
Day 2 of Nato summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. Picture: Getty

Zelenskyy met this morning with Rishi Sunak with the aim of using the meeting to talk about security guarantees for Kyiv.

Mr Sunak told him there had been "real progress" on that matter.

The Prime Minister said: "What your soldiers are doing on the front line, it is inspiring to everyone.

"We're proud to have played a part in training some of them.

"They have served with enormous bravery and courage."

Mr Zelenskyy said the training missions in the UK had been "very important", with Mr Sunak adding it was clear the exercises had "been put to good use".

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Wallace said that while the UK’s patience with the demands for weaponry was not wearing thin, Kyiv had to persuade lawmakers in the US that Ukraine appreciated the military support after Zelensky’s outburst yesterday criticising Nato’s decision not to offer it a timeline for joining Nato.

Shelagh Fogarty offers her opinion on whether Ukraine should be able to join NATO

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’ve got to persuade lawmakers on the Hill in America, you’ve got to persuade doubting politicians in other countries that it’s worth it and it’s worthwhile and that they’re getting something for it. Whether you like it or not, that’s just the reality of it.

“You will sometimes hear grumbles, not from the [US] administration and the American system, but you will hear from lawmakers on the Hill: ‘We’ve given $83 billion worth of whatever and you know, we’re not Amazon.’ I mean, that’s true. I told them that last June: I said to the Ukrainians when I drove 11 hours to be given a [wish] list: ‘I’m not Amazon’,” Wallace said.

Wallace insisted Ukraine has achieved a great milestone at this summit by getting a clear statement from the alliance that Kyiv’s rightful place is in NATO.

“The win here for Ukraine is the sort of cultural acceptance that Ukraine belongs to NATO,” he said. “The word ‘belongs’ implies fate, implies it is going to happen. It is not an if, it is a when.”

In a press conference to mark the end of the Nato summit, Zelenskyy expressed his profuse gratitude to the US government, Congress and public for their support: “You are truly the leaders in support for Ukraine. We really appreciate it.”

Read More: Plan unveiled to bring Ukraine 'closer' to Nato alliance as world leaders hold talks in Lithuania

It comes after Nato's secretary general Jens Stoltenberg warned Ukraine it will only join the military alliance when "allies agree and conditions are met".

Jens Stoltenberg, speaking at the Nato summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, said members are admitted based on conditions, not timelines.

"If you look at all the membership processes they are not based on timelines, they are conditions-based as it has always been," he adds.

Mr Zelenskyy's outburst came hours after Nato announced a breakthrough that would allow it to admit Sweden as its 32nd member, the second new arrival since Russia began its invasion of its neighbour last year.

G-7 countries sign joint declaration in support of Ukraine at NATO summit
G-7 countries sign joint declaration in support of Ukraine at NATO summit. Picture: Getty

A three-part 'multi-year' package to bring “Ukraine closer to Nato” was announced at the summit.

Secretary General of Nato Jens Stoltenberg today announced the plans to establish “a new Nato-Ukraine council, reaffirming that Ukraine will become a member of Nato and removing the requirement for the membership action plans”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has previously criticised a lack of timescale for the country to join the alliance, saying it was 'absurd'.