‘Freedom will win’: Zelenskyy tells UK parliament after meeting PM and King Charles
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for fighter jets to secure his country’s victory over Russia in a dramatic speech to Britain’s Parliament.
On his second known visit outside Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24 last year – and his first trip to the UK – Zelenskyy also thanked the British people for their support since the ” first day” of the invasion of Moscow.
The Ukrainian leader’s surprise visit to Britain in a bid to acquire more advanced weaponry comes as Ukraine prepares for an expected Russian offensive and develops its own plans to retake land held by Moscow forces. Western support has been key to Kyiv’s surprisingly stiff defense, and both sides are engaged in fierce battles.
Zelenskyy arrived in Downing Street for talks with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, before delivering an impassioned speech to parliamentarians in Westminster and meeting King Charles III at Buckingham Palace.
Sunak and Zelenskyy were also due to visit Ukrainian troops trained on Challenger 2 tanks that Britain is sending among the hundreds that Kyiv says it needs.
Hundreds of lawmakers and parliamentary staff packed the 900-year-old Westminster Hall, the oldest – and, on a cold winter day, unheated – part of Parliament for Zelenskyy’s speech.
Zelenskyy, dressed in his drab olive sweatshirt, urged his allies to send jets to his country, saying the fighter jets would be “wings for freedom”.
In a pointed and dramatic gesture, Zelenskyy presented the Speaker of the House of Commons with a Ukrainian Air Force helmet, bearing the inscription of a Ukrainian pilot: “We have freedom. Give us wings to protect it.
The president is trying to soften the reluctance of allies to send advanced fighter jets, both because they are complex to fly and for fear of an escalation of war.
The UK has repeatedly stated that it is impractical to supply the Ukrainian military with British fighter jets. But in a change, the government said on Wednesday it was “actively investigating” whether Ukraine could receive Western jets, and was “in discussions with our allies” about this.
Britain has announced it will be training Ukrainian pilots in Britain on “NATO-standard fighter jets” starting within weeks.
Sunak spokesman Max Blain said the government was exploring ‘what jets we might be able to give away’ over the next few years but had not made a decision on whether to send its jets F-35 or Typhoon.
“We think it is right to provide both short-term equipment … which can help win the war now, but also to look to the medium to long term to ensure that Ukraine has all the the opportunities it needs,” he said.
Macron said France did not rule out sending fighter jets but set out conditions before such a step was taken, including not leading to an escalation of tensions or using the plane “to hit the Russian soil”, and not to weaken “capacities”. of the French army.
Zelenskyy, who also met King Charles III at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday, noted that the British monarch was a trained military pilot.
“The king is an air force pilot,” Zekenskyy said, and “in Ukraine today, every air force pilot is a king.”
Zelenskyy was greeted with applause, cheers and cries of ‘Slava Ukraini’ – ‘Glory to Ukraine’ – as he arrived in parliament, where Ukraine’s cause enjoys broad support from the conservative government and opposition parties.
Zelenskyy is also expected to visit Paris and Brussels
The Ukrainian president is also expected in Paris on Wednesday evening, for trilateral talks with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
On Thursday, Zelensky is should go to Brussels as EU leaders gather for a summit.
A senior EU official told Euronews that Zelenskyy’s trip to the Belgian capital is likely to begin with an address to an extraordinary plenary session of the European Parliament.
He could then join EU leaders meeting for a special summit to discuss migration, the bloc’s response to the US Cut Inflation Act and support for Ukraine, including through of a tenth round of sanctions against Russia.
Zelenskyy has joined these summits virtually several times since the start of the war to brief leaders on the situation on the ground, but has yet to attend them in person.
It would come a week after EU commissioners traveled to Kyiv for meetings with the Ukrainian government, followed by an EU-Ukraine summit on Friday attended by the commission chief. Ursula von der Leyen and the President of the European Council Charles Michel.
They then said that “there is an open invitation for President Zelenskyy to visit Brussels” to which the Ukrainian leader replied: “I really want to travel but there is a very significant risk because of the attempt of revenge of Russia”.