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Zelenskyy: Freedom will win

Published:Thursday | February 9, 2023 | 1:09 AM
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) welcomes Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at Downing Street in London on Wednesday. It is the first visit to the UK by the Ukraine president since the war began nearly a year ago.
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) welcomes Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at Downing Street in London on Wednesday. It is the first visit to the UK by the Ukraine president since the war began nearly a year ago.

LONDON (AP):

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pushed for fighter jets to ensure his country’s victory over Russia in a dramatic speech before the UK Parliament, where he also thanked the British people for their support since “Day One” of Moscow’s invasion.

The embattled leader’s surprise visit to Britain in a bid for more advanced weapons comes as Ukraine braces for an expected Russian offensive and hatches its own plans to retake land held by Moscow’s forces. Western support has been key to Kyiv’s surprisingly stiff defence, and the two sides are engaged in grinding battles.

At a joint news conference at a British army base, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said fighter jets were “part of the conversation” about aid to Ukraine.

“Nothing is off the table,” he said. “We must arm Ukraine in the short term, but we must bolster Ukraine for the long term.”

Zelenskyy said Ukraine needs all kinds of supplies, not just planes, but also ammunition and long-range missiles.

“Without this, there would be stagnation which will not bring to anything good,” he said, calling his visit “very fruitful”.

It was only Zelenskyy’s second foreign trip since Russia invaded on February 24, 2022, after a December visit to Washington. French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said he would host Zelenskyy and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Paris later in the day.

Sunak and Zelenskyy flew by helicopter to Lulworth Camp, a base in southwest England where they met Ukrainian troops being trained on the Challenger 2 tanks the UK is sending as part of the hundreds that Kyiv said it needs. More than 10,000 Ukrainian troops have been trained at bases in the UK, and Britain said it will train 20,000 more in 2023.

“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,” Sunak said.

Hundreds of lawmakers and parliamentary staff had packed the 900-year-old Westminster Hall, the oldest – and, on a cold winter day, unheated – part of Parliament for Zelenskyy’s speech.

Zelenskyy thanked Britons for their bravery, adding: “London has stood with Kyiv since Day One.”

Wearing his trademark olive drab sweatshirt, he urged allies to send his country jets, saying combat aircraft 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, inscribed by a Ukrainian pilot: “We have freedom. Give us wings to protect it.”

The president is trying to soften allies’ reluctance to send advanced fighter jets, both because they are complex to fly and for fear of escalating the war.

The UK has repeatedly said it’s not practical to provide the Ukrainian military with British warplanes. But in a shift, the government said Wednesday it was “actively looking” at whether Ukraine could be sent Western jets, and was “in discussion with our allies” about it.

Britain also said it would train Ukrainian pilots in Britain on “NATO-standard fighter jets” within weeks.