On the train to Kyiv last week, a Ukrainian thanked me for supporting her country.  I told her she was mistaken: the world should in fact be thanking Ukraine.  "We give weapons, but you give lives," I explained.  Her surprise was replaced with a bit of pride.

The recent request from British and American government politicians for Ukraine to be thankful shows a blinkered view because it disregards the existential risk facing Western democracy and ignores Ukraine’s courage in fighting democracy’s current enemy number one.  At the Nato summit on Tuesday, UK defence secretary, Ben Wallace, and US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, both called for more gratitude from Ukraine, with Wallace saying the UK is not an Amazon for weapons.

Wallace and Sullivan are wrong.  Yes, Ukraine has had to fight for its own life, its freedom, and even its existence as a sovereign nation, but it has also been fighting a regime that threatens every value that we outside Ukraine cherish and still enjoy.  So, every drop of Ukrainian blood has been shed for global benefit.

In such an interdependent situation, who should actually be thanking whom?  How do we measure which direction any gratitude should be flowing?

We can answer this by expanding the financial concept of Return on Investment to ‘Return on Sacrifice’.  We can consider the sacrifice suffered by Ukraine against its necessity or benefit to the country, and then compare this Return on Sacrifice to the West’s own return on its Ukrainian ‘investment’.  By this measure, the West has already seen a very good democracy return for a very modest sacrifice – a Return on Sacrifice no less worthwhile than Ukraine’s. 

Alternatively, we could just simply ask who has done more for the other.  This leads to the same answer:  Ukraine – in tipping the global autocracy-democracy balance in the right direction – has done at least as much for the West as the West has done for Ukraine.

I accept that Ukraine’s motivation for its sacrifice, courage and determination is for survival rather than expressly to help other democratic nations.  However, we can likewise say that these other nations help Ukraine so their own values have a higher chance of not being turned to dust.  President Zelensky is right to stress that Russia is the common enemy of all democratic nations and people.  We should not forget that it is simply because of the way the cards of history have fallen that the responsibility to fight Putin has befallen Ukraine.

The main benefit in discussing the ‘balance of gratitude’ is to spotlight that Western assistance is not purely altruistic or some sort of charity.  If we accept that we are all in this together, there is, in fact, no need for thanks in either direction.

When the history of the 21st century is written – if it happens to be a story that ends with the survival of democracy and freedom for Homo Sapiens – it will be obvious that the nation that stood up to Putin, and surprised the world by helping us from the downward slide of values on the planet, had no need to thank anyone at all. 

We should not expect David to thank us while fighting Goliath for the common good.

If only there were more consensus in the West about the menace of this Goliath, then we would be focused on finishing the job rather than trying to weigh up how much assistance we should be providing.  Indeed, when the trajectory of not doing enough could be the loss of freedom itself, this is not the time to count the beans.    

Since leaders of democracies need buy-in from voters, they must learn to articulate that we are in a battle that we cannot risk waging by half-measure because it is for our values.

The next time a Ukrainian thanks me, I won’t respond by thanking them.  I will simply explain that no civilised person needs to thank another for jointly trying to save civilisation.