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UK may send fighter jets to Ukraine in ‘long term’ after Zelenskyy plea – POLITICO

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LONDON — Rishi Sunak has asked his defense chief to consider whether the UK can supply fighter jets to Ukraine on a “long term” basis.

Speaking during a surprise visit to the UK by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is “actively considering whether we are sending jets ” in Ukraine.

He told reporters: ‘The Prime Minister has instructed the Defense Secretary to investigate any jets we might provide – but to be clear this is a long term solution.

The comments came just hours after a rare address by Zelenskyy to both houses of Britain’s parliament, in which the Ukrainian leader issued a fresh plea for his country to receive fighter jets as it seeks to repel the Russian invasion.

Zelenskyy’s next stop will be France, according to an official in Paris.

Downing Street has previously argued that it is not ‘practical’ to supply Ukraine with highly complex jets which will require extensive training to operate, although it made clear at the same time that the UK would continue to “listen carefully” to Ukrainian requests for support.

Speaking on Wednesday, Sunak’s spokesman stressed that no decision had yet been taken on the supply of jets and that the UK was taking a “multi-year approach to our support for Ukraine”. .

Zelenskyy earlier addressed an audience of MPs, peers and journalists at Westminster Hall, the medieval heart of Britain’s parliament, as Kyiv braces for an anticipated Russian offensive.

He spoke with Sunak and will be received in audience by King Charles III.

The British Prime Minister has already announced on Wednesday that the United Kingdom will now train pilots to operate fighter jets to NATO standards as well as marines. This will be accompanied by an expansion of British training for Ukrainian military recruits, which will increase from 10,000 to 20,000 soldiers this year.

Sunak’s spokesman said the UK hoped to receive the first Ukrainian pilots for training in the spring, and confirmed the initiative would involve training them to fly British aircraft.


Only a handful of leaders have delivered such a speech at Westminster Hall in the past 30 years, including Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama and, most recently, King Charles III.

President Zelenskyy stepped up the pressure on Rishi Sunak, joking that he had left Parliament two years earlier grateful for ‘delicious English tea’, but this time he would ‘thank you all in advance for powerful English planes’ | Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images

Addressing the assembled lawmakers, Zelenskyy thanked Britain for “reaching out” when the world was still unsure how to respond to Russia’s invasion, and issued a series of pointed appeals to the Western air aid.

Zelenskyy presented the Speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, with the helmet of one of Ukraine’s most successful pilots, on which was inscribed a plea for modern fighter jets that read: “We have the freedom , give us wings to protect it.

Accelerating the pressure on Sunak, Zelenskyy joked that he had left Parliament two years earlier, grateful for the “delicious English tea”, but this time added that he would leave Parliament “thanking you all for advance for the powerful English planes”.

And he described the prospect of an audience with the king as “a really special moment for me” adding pointedly: “The king is an air force pilot. And in Ukraine today, every pilot of the air force is a king.

The Ukrainian leader also paid a personal tribute to former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who figured prominently in the audience. “Boris, you brought the others together when it seemed absolutely impossible,” he said.

Before Sunak took office, Zelenskyy had bonded with Johnson, who was one of Ukraine’s most vocal supporters as prime minister and even made a surprise visit to Kyiv after leaving office. Sunak has pledged to maintain UK support since taking office in October, although Johnson has urged the West to go further in granting fighter jet requests.

“Unimaginable difficulties”

It is Zelenskyy’s first trip to the UK since the Russian invasion almost a year ago and only his second confirmed trip outside Ukraine during the war, having visited the United States.

Ukraine’s president arrived on a Royal Air Force plane at an airport north of London on a visit that had been a closely guarded secret until Wednesday morning.

Recounting his first visit to London in 2020 when he sat in the chair of British warlord Winston Churchill, Zelenskyy said: ‘I certainly felt something – but only now do I know what was the feeling. It’s a feeling of how bravery takes you through the most unimaginable trials to ultimately reward you with victory.

The Ukrainian leader is also expected to visit Brussels later this week, although a question mark was placed over his visit after plans leaked on Monday.

Hopes are growing in Brussels that the Ukrainian leader may also make his first visit to European Union institutions since the start of the war.

Leaders of the 27-nation bloc will meet for a summit in Brussels on Thursday, which would allow Zelenskyy to meet all the top leaders in one day.

The visit to London came as Russian forces bombarded areas of eastern Ukraine with fresh artillery bombardment, Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday, which authorities in Kyiv say is part of of a further push by Kremlin forces ahead of the anniversary of the invasion.

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