Zelensky thanks Britain on his second trip abroad since the invasion of Russia.
LONDON — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky paid a surprise visit to Britain on Wednesday morning, being greeted with a hug at Stansted Airport by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who announced his intention to extend British military support to the Ukraine to include the training of its pilots in NATO fighter jets.
In a speech to Parliament, Mr Zelensky, dressed in his familiar drab green sweatshirt and speaking in English, thanked Britain for its military support “on behalf of our warriors who are now in the trenches under the fire of enemy artillery”.
“London has been with Kyiv since day one,” he said, adding: “We know freedom will win.”
Mr Zelensky is due to meet King Charles III at Buckingham Palace later today. Earlier on Wednesday, applause rang out for Mr Zelensky as he walked into 10 Downing Street with Mr Sunak, after the two leaders shook hands and waved to reporters and onlookers.
Mr Zelensky’s visit, announced by Downing Street just hours before his arrival, is only the Ukrainian leader’s second trip outside his country since the Russian invasion last February. In December, he traveled to Washington for a meeting at the White House with President Biden and a speech in Congress, and also stopped in Poland.
The trip underscores Britain’s role as one of Ukraine’s biggest arms suppliers – the US is the biggest – and Mr Sunak’s strong public support for Mr Zelensky and his two predecessors, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson. Mr Sunak and Mr Johnson traveled to Ukraine to meet Mr Zelensky, although Ms Truss, whose tenure as UK leader lasted just over six weeks, never made the trip as Prime Minister.
Mr Zelensky is expected to travel to Brussels on Thursday for meetings with European Union leaders.
Britain is sending Ukraine 14 Challenger 2 main battle tanks, along with artillery and thousands of rounds of rounds, a promise it made several weeks ago, in part to entice Germany and the United States reluctant to follow suit. Both governments have also pledged to send battle tanks, which military analysts say will bolster Ukraine’s ability to retake Russian-occupied territory in the face of a Russian offensive expected in the spring.
So far, Mr. Sunak, like the Biden administration, has resisted calls to send fighter jets to Ukraine lest they escalate the confrontation with Russia. But Mr Johnson, during a visit to Washington last week, called on Britain and the West to do whatever it takes – including the supply of jets – to enable the Ukraine to repel Russian troops.
It was not immediately clear whether Britain’s plan to train pilots signaled a change in its stance on jets, although this is in line with the UK government’s strategy to be at the forefront of the Western military support for Ukraine.
Britain has already trained 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers, including soldiers who arrived last week to learn how to operate Challenger tanks. In addition to pilots, Britain said it would start training Ukrainian marines.
In a statement, Sunak said the expansion of training to marines and fighter pilots “underscores our commitment to not just provide short-term military hardware, but a long-term commitment to stand with Ukraine for years”. come.”
The British government has also announced new sanctions targeting Russian servicemen and those loyal to President Vladimir V. Putin, in a bid to “undermine its war machine to help Ukraine win”, said the British Minister for Foreign Affairs. Foreign Affairs, James Cleverly, in a statement.
The list includes several companies that support Russian military operations: CST, a drone manufacturer; RT-Komplekt, which produces helicopter parts; Oboronlogistics, which helps transport military equipment; Universalmash and Lipetsk, two companies that manufacture parts for anti-aircraft missile systems; and Topaz, a software company involved in military aviation. Five people have also been added to the sanctions list for apparent links to Mr Putin’s residences.
Megan Specia contributed report.