Ukrainian officials approached the UK Government, then under Prime Minister Tony Blair, for help in joining the European Union in 2002, documents released by the UK’s national archives have revealed.
Then-Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma also warned the UK about Russian President Vladimir Putin, while a Blair adviser warned that the British Government had “too rosy a view” regarding the Russian leader.
Ukraine wanted “full-scale European and Euro-Atlantic integration, including the full-fledged EU membership”, Kuchma is noted as saying in a direct appeal to Blair.
“Knowing you as a sincere friend of Ukraine, I pin great hopes on your personal support in this exceptionally important issue,” the Ukrainian President remarked according to one of the documents released under the UK’s public records act.
Other European countries were not keen on integrating Ukraine into the EU.
Blair’s European advisor Roger Liddle urged the Labour leader to back the nation, adding that Ukraine could end up being an important ally in the region.
“Strengthening Ukraine’s shaky democracy and economy increases stability on the EU’s future Eastern borders and acts as a formidable barrier to any resurgence of Russian imperialism to the West,” wrote Liddle at the time, calling Ukrainian officials “depressed” by lack of Western support.
Getting too close to Putin could backfire, added Liddle, noting Kyiv called Russia’s president “a clever, presentable power politician but no democratic hero”.
“We have too rosy a view of Putin” and “we rubbish Ukraine”, Liddle remarked in one document.
The warning came at a time of increased Russian popularity in parts of Europe, with some viewing Moscow as a potential ally in the post-Soviet era.
Putin was among the first world leaders to call then-US President George W Bush after the 9/11 World Trade Centre terrorist attacks in New York to pledge support.
With the UK now supporting Ukraine in its war effort, commentators say Liddle’s arguments from 21 years ago would likely appear somewhat prescient to many today.