ON BOARD THE PRIME MINISTER’S JET — U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Tuesday’s attack on the Nova Kakhovka dam in Ukraine would constitute a “new low” if shown to be the work of Russian forces.
Speaking onboard a British government plane to Washington D.C. as he prepares for his first White House summit with U.S. President Joe Biden, Sunak said British military and intelligence agencies were examining the evidence but that it was “too soon” to make a “definitive judgement” about the cause of the dam’s collapse.
But, he added, if proven to be an intentional act “it would represent the largest attack on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine since the start of the war” and “demonstrate new lows” in terms of Russian aggression.
Sunak added that while he expected to discuss the latest developments in the war with Biden on Thursday, the immediate response would be humanitarian as thousands are evacuated from the Kherson region amid serious flooding.
Ukrainian officials said Russia had bombed the Soviet-era dam, which bridges Ukraine’s Dnipro River in a part of the Kherson region occupied by Russian troops, unleashing as much as 18 cubic kilometers of water, flooding surrounding villages.
The dam’s destruction drew condemnation from EU and Ukrainian leaders, who described it as a potential war crime.
Ahead of the trip, Sunak’s spokesman had talked up U.S.-U.K. cooperation on Ukraine, saying the two leaders would focus on applying “our shared values and leadership to the biggest challenges faced by our countries and the world.”
In particular, he said Sunak and Biden expect to discuss how they can continue to ensure Ukraine has all the resources it needs, including air defense.
The British premier also hopes to deliver a message on economic cooperation as he arrives in Washington, following concern among colleagues in the U.K. about the impact on the British economy of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and the lack of progress on a U.K.-U.S. trade deal.
Pointing to the central role the trans-Atlantic defense partnership played in shaping the course of the 20th century, Sunak will argue that cooperation on economic issues will prove equally important in the years to come.
“Just as interoperability between our militaries has given us a battlefield advantage over our adversaries, greater economic interoperability will give us a crucial edge in the decades ahead,” Sunak said ahead of departure.
British officials pointed to the U.S.-U.K. trade relationship, worth £279 billion a year, despite the U.K. government having already admitted it has little hope of reviving talks for a long-promised free-trade agreement.
Sunak is due to meet Wednesday with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a long-time supporter of closer trade ties with the U.K.
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