Zelenskyy praises Boris Johnson in historic speech to UK Parliament – POLITICO
LONDON — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has praised Boris Johnson as he delivers a historic speech to Britain’s parliament on a rare trip outside his country.
Zelenskyy speaks to an audience of MPs, peers and journalists in Westminster Hall, the medieval heart of Britain’s parliament, as Kyiv prepares for an anticipated Russian offensive.
He said Britain ‘has reached out’ when the world still didn’t know how to respond to the Russian invasion, and paid a personal tribute to Johnson, the prominent former British prime minister in the audience gathered to watch Zelenskyy speak. “Boris, you brought the others together when it seemed absolutely impossible,” he said.
Zelenskyy told those gathered that he was “here on behalf of every brave soldier in the trenches, on behalf of every defender of the skies, on behalf of our men who are fighting to restore our borders, our conscripts who are being trained now – including here in Britain – thank you Britain.
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.
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.
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.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak greeted him on the tarmac, Tweeter a photo of the couple kissing.
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.
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.
Zelenskyy held talks with Sunak in Downing Street before speaking in Westminster as Britain announced new training programs for fighter pilots and marines.
Ahead of their meeting, Sunak announced that the UK would now train pilots in the operation of NATO-standard fighter jets as well as marines. This is on top of an expansion of British training of Ukrainian recruits from 10,000 to 20,000 troops this year.
In a sign of Westminster’s broad cross-party consensus on Ukraine, Labor leader Keir Starmer said on Wednesday that his opposition party “doesn’t just hope for victory for Ukraine, we believe in victory”.
Zelenskyy has previously urged his allies to send jets to Ukraine, although the UK and others have warned that it would be impractical to provide British fighter jets.
Kyiv could seek Western promises of more advanced weapons ahead of possible spring offensives from Russia and Ukraine.
The Ukrainian leader will also meet King Charles III and British military leaders during his visit.
Sunak said he was “proud” to announce today’s expanded program, and that it “underscores our commitment not only to providing short-term military equipment, but also a long-term commitment to standing side of Ukraine for years to come”. .”
Before Sunak took office, Zelenskyy had forged ties with Johnson, who was one of Ukraine’s most vocal supporters as prime minister. Sunak has pledged to maintain UK support since taking office in October.
Zelenskyy previously addressed Britain’s parliament remotely last March, two weeks after the invasion began, echoing Winston Churchill’s famous “never surrender” speech. He vowed that the Ukrainians “will fight to the end at sea, in the air. We will continue to fight for our land, whatever the cost.
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.
This news in development is being updated.