LONDON: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged the UK and Western allies to provide “wings for freedom” by supplying his air force with advanced jets.
In a surprise visit, Mr Zelensky used an address to Parliament to thank the UK for its steadfast support since Russia invaded. But, as he presented a Ukrainian fighter ace’s helmet to Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, he said more planes were needed to defeat Vladimir Putin’s forces.
Earlier, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced plans to train Ukrainian pilots, paving the way for them eventually being able to fly sophisticated Nato-standard jets, but that is seen as a long-term ambition. Mr Zelensky said he wanted a coalition of nations to supply planes.
He said: “I appeal to you and the world with simple and yet most important words: combat aircraft for Ukraine, wings for freedom.”
The Ukrainian president, who was to meet the King during his visit, said: “In Britain, the king is an air force pilot and in Ukraine today, every air force pilot is a king.”
He said that on his last trip to Parliament two years ago in peacetime, “I thanked you for delicious English tea”, but now he would be “thanking all of you in advance for powerful English planes”. It was only Mr Zelensky’s second time travelling overseas since the Russian invasion, after he held talks in the United States and Poland during a trip in December.
Addressing a packed Westminster Hall, Mr Zelensky told parliamentarians: “We know freedom will win. We know Russia will lose. “And we really know that the victory will change the world and this will be a change that the world has long needed.
“The United Kingdom is marching with us towards the most, I think, the most important victory of our lifetime. It will be a victory over the very idea of the war.” Ahead of his speech in Parliament, Mr Zelensky visited Downing Street for talks with Mr Sunak. The Prime Minister promised training for pilots and also Ukrainian marines so they can “mount further offensives”.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer staged a show of unity in support of the UK’s backing for Ukraine. Sir Keir said “Putin and all his cronies must stand at the Hague and face justice” when the war is over.
Mr Sunak said he had discussed the situation with Mr Zelensky and “I’m hopeful we will see the first indictments very shortly” at the International Criminal Court.
The expansion of the UK’s training programme to include jet fighter pilots is significant given Mr Zelensky’s call for Western planes. The UK has so far refused, arguing that the RAF’s F-35 and Typhoon jets take too long for pilots to train on.
But the announcement by No 10 signals a shift for the future, and officials said that “as part of that long-term capability investment” the UK will work with Ukraine and international allies “to co-ordinate collective support to meet Ukraine’s defensive needs”.
It is part of a two-pronged strategy, offering military kit now to fend off a Russian spring offensive while also preparing Ukraine’s forces for the longer term.
Ukrainian troops are already being trained in the use of Challenger 2 tanks, which are expected to be sent to the country next month. Mr Sunak will also offer longer-range firepower to help counter Russia’s ability to strike at Ukraine’s towns and energy facilities.
The Prime Minister said: “Since 2014, the UK has provided vital training to Ukrainian forces, allowing them to defend their country, protect their sovereignty and fight for their territory. “I am proud that today we will expand that training from soldiers to marines and fighter jet pilots, ensuring Ukraine has a military able to defend its interests well into the future.
“It also underlines our commitment to not just provide military equipment for the short term, but a long-term pledge to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine for years to come.” The UK also announced a fresh package of sanctions on Russian firms and allies of Mr Putin to coincide with Mr Zelensky’s surprise visit.
CST, a manufacturer of Russian drones, and RT-Komplekt, which produces parts for helicopters used in the war against Ukraine, are among the entities sanctioned.
Five individuals linked to Mr Putin’s luxury residences, including presidential commissioner for entrepreneurs’ rights Boris Titov, and Aerostart owner Viktor Myachin, were also hit with travel bans and asset freezes.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “These new sanctions accelerate the economic pressure on Putin – undermining his war machine to help Ukraine prevail.”—PA
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