Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has declared himself “very happy” at Boris Johnson’s confidence vote win, hours after one of his senior advisers tweeted a picture of the two men and thanked the UK prime minister for helping to protect “the free world from barbaric invasion”.
Zelenskiy described Johnson’s narrow victory on Monday evening as “great news”, in remarks via video link to an event hosted by the Financial Times on Tuesday. “I’m glad we haven’t lost a very important ally, this is great news,” he said.
Johnson had spoken directly to Zelenskiy before the vote on Monday as Britain confirmed it would send a number of M270 rocket launchers to Ukraine and as he was desperately lobbying for support among Conservative MPs in Westminster, who backed him by 59% to 41%.
Shortly after the result, Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, said he knew what Ukraine’s president “would be thinking tonight”. He said in a TV interview: “Zelenskiy will be punching the air because he knows his great ally Boris Johnson will be prime minister tomorrow morning.”
Mikhail Podolyak, an adviser to the president’s office, tweeted supportively within a couple of minutes of the result breaking at 11pm local time in Ukraine.
“Leadership is always a heavy burden,” Podolyak said, praising Johnson for being “one of the first who realised the menace of and stood by Zelenskiy to protect the free world from barbaric invasion. The world needs such leaders.”
Few commentators believe British support for Ukraine would alter significantly under any other Conservative leader, but Johnson and Zelenskiy have struck up a rapport during the crisis.
In an overnight statement, Zelenskiy, while not commenting on the result, thanked the prime minister for “fully understanding our needs” and providing “the weapons we so desperately need to protect the lives of our people”.
Johnson is a popular figure among Ukrainian politicians, partly because the UK is perceived to have been quick to supply weapons, in particular contrast to Germany, starting with supplying hundreds of anti-tank weapons in January, a month before Russia launched its unprovoked invasion.
Kira Rudik, an MP who leads the liberal Golos party, said the prime minister was more popular than the US president, Joe Biden. She cited Johnson’s high-security visit to Kyiv, during which he conducted a walkabout with Zelenskiy under armed guard in deserted streets. Biden has not visited since the war began.
Ukrainian politicians were particularly pleased with an apology Johnson made in May during an address to the country’s parliament. The prime minister conceded that the west had failed to respond firmly enough to Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014 and the separatist takeover of parts of the eastern Donbas region.
“This was a super important thing for us,” Rudik said, because it was one of the first times a western leader had acknowledged Ukraine faced a persistent long-term threat from Moscow that was unlikely to dissipate even if the current war ends or a ceasefire is put in place.