For two weeks running, regular flights have been leaving RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, bound for Kyiv Boryspol Airport in Ukraine. On board each departing C-17 are the tools required to keep Ukraine free from Russian aggression. Crates of anti-tank rockets, body armour, and other defensive equipment are unloaded and quickly dispatched across the Ukrainian armed forces in preparation for the inevitable. Each flight however also carries something else for the Ukrainians, a renewed sense of hope.

These new ‘liberty flights’ are bringing to the Ukrainian people the means to defend their homeland and keep the age-old dream of an independent Ukraine alive in the face of external pressures. And it is thanks to the resolve of the British government that they will be able to keep the fight going for longer.

Of course these new arms for Ukraine come only as a small part of a wider package of support that the UK has offered the country since it toppled the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. In 2020 the two governments signed a memorandum of understanding on the reconstruction of the Ukrainian navy – after 75% of its ships and servicemen defected to Russia following the annexation of Sevastopol and Crimea. Over the coming years, Britain will deliver new frigates, and support the construction of advanced naval bases in Odessa and Mariupol.

At the same time, more than 100 British service personnel have been involved in the training of the Ukrainian army since 2014. Teaching the restructured army, the basics of logistics, organisational structuring, combat medicine, and counter terrorism.

This support to Ukraine is far more than a token gesture, but rather a sign of the pivot in thinking in London about our place in the world. Britain is carving out a new role for itself in central and eastern Europe as the new ‘Arsenal of Democracy’, providing equipment and expertise to democratic allies all along the frontier with Russia.

In Poland, British troops were deployed to support the border guard in securing their frontier with Belarus, against the backdrop of the Lukashenko regimes weaponization of the migrant crisis. Engineers helped to erect temporary barbed wire fences to stem the flow of illegal crossings made by desperate refugees imported from Iraq and Syria to be the pawns of the pro-Russian regime in Minsk.

At the same time, hundreds of British forces have been based permanently in Estonia, leading the NATO Advanced Forward Presence programme, that has seen Western allies take up defensive positions in the Baltic states to deter Russian aggression. With additional troops acting in a support capacity in Lithuanian and Poland as part of the same NATO mission.

The UK’s role as a major supporter of the democracies of central and eastern Europe comes against the backdrop of strained relations with the rest of Western Europe. While the countries that share a border with Russia see an ever-present danger, the West has become complacent when it comes to issue. They instead see a need to maintain close relations – driven by economic necessity. In particular, an over dependence on cheap Russian energy.

This contrast in approaches has been clear from the beginning of the most recent crisis on the Ukrainian border. Whilst the United Kingdom, joined by Poland and the Baltic States, has been fast to deploy weapons and resources to Ukraine, Germany and France have sat on the side-lines. So far German support for Ukraine has amounted to a promise to set up an institute for the study of alternate energies, and a commitment to send 5,000 helmets.

The UK has as a result, earned its place in the region as the new Arsenal of Democracy, supporting the independence and sovereignty of the nations of central and eastern Europe in the face of a common threat. Afterall, the British public knows as well as anyone else the real danger that Russia poses to the global order. More than twenty attacks against Russian expats and exiles have taken place on British soil in the last three decades – in some cases with British casualties. The UK has also been the victim of numerous cyber-attacks, aimed at lower-level infrastructure, but causing major disruption. Last year a Police database was the victims of Russian hackers, who stole and uploaded files to the ‘dark web’.

Britain’s willingness to support her allies abroad has not gone un-noticed. During last year’s celebrations marking 30 years of Ukrainian independence, British troops were the first international contingent to march in the parade – a symbolic gesture of gratitude for their close cooperation. And when British anti-tank equipment started to arrive in Kyiv, the phrase ‘God Save the Queen’ began trending on Twitter.

Whilst the UK can stand proud at what it has achieved so far in terms of support offered, there is still much work to be done in the region. Expanding support for resilience building, the strengthening of democratic institutions, and increasing investment in the region to promote economic opportunity away from Russia.

In a world where democracy is on the back foot – it is more important than ever to keep our friends close and circle the wagons of the free world. Britain should stand up and take the initiative.