President Volodymyr Zelensky used a visit to London on Wednesday to urge allies to send combat aircraft to his war-torn country as Britain promised to train Ukrainian fighter pilots.
As the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion looms and Ukraine braces for a fresh Russian offensive in the east, Zelensky is pushing ever harder for friendly nations to send tanks, jets, and missiles.
Zelensky, dressed in his usual green fatigues, received waves of applause as he made a historic address to both the lower and upper houses of the British parliament on what is only his second overseas trip since the war began.
“I appeal to you and the world… for combat aircrafts for Ukraine, wings for freedom,” he said.
“The United Kingdom is marching with us towards the most… important victory of our lifetime it will be a victory over the very idea of the war.”
Zelensky kicked off his visit at 10 Downing Street where he held talks with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. He is also met King Charles III and will visit Ukrainian troops receiving military training in southwest England.
Britain says it has already trained 10,000 Ukrainian troops “to battle readiness” over the past six months and will train a further 20,000 this year.
The new UK training will “ensure pilots are able to fly sophisticated NATO-standard fighter jets in the future”, the Britain said, although Western countries have so far ruled out sending jets themselves.
After meeting Zelensky, Sunak told parliament the UK would continue “to support Ukraine to ensure decisive military victory on the battlefield, this year”.
– ‘Accelerated’ support –
“(Russian President) Vladimir Putin’s aggression cannot be seen in any way to have been successful, and that’s why we have accelerated and increased our support militarily for Ukraine,” Sunak said.
Zelensky is due in Paris late Wednesday, according to a French government source. EU officials are hoping he will head to Brussels on Thursday.
In December, Zelensky was given a hero’s welcome in Washington on his first overseas visit since the war began.
Moscow said Tuesday that Russian forces were advancing towards Bakhmut and Vugledar — two key centres of fighting in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine, now the flashpoint of the war.
On Tuesday, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands promised that Ukraine would get at least 100 tanks in the “coming months”, as the German defence minister visited Kyiv.
The three European governments also said training and support would be sent for the Leopard 1 tanks, ahead of the delivery of more advanced tanks in the future.
Germany recently gave the green light for Leopard battle tanks to be sent to Ukraine after a tireless campaign by Zelensky and allied countries.
While Berlin has moved, however, other nations that committed to sending the tanks now appear to be stalling.
Training Ukrainian troops to use any armaments they receive, remains a challenge.
Last week, Sunak said sending the UK’s Typhoon and F-35 fighter jets to Kyiv would require “months if not years” of training and that he was looking for the most effective way of helping Kyiv secure victory.
– ‘Ukraine belongs to Europe’ –
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has also warned that supplying fighter jets to Ukraine would not be a “magic wand” in the war, although he refused to rule out the idea.
The United States has so far rejected any deliveries of F-16 warplanes to Ukraine, but other partners, including Poland, have shown themselves more open to the idea.
Britain also announced a fresh round of sanctions targeting organisations relied on by the Russian military. Putin, however, remains defiant.
Updated maps of Russia have gone on sale in Moscow bookstores that include four annexed Ukrainian regions: Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Lugansk and Donetsk. Putin regularly refers to them as “our historical lands”.
Ahead of the February 24 anniversary of Russia’s invasion, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said it was clear that Moscow would not win and assured Ukraine its future was in the EU.
“Putin will not achieve his goals — not on the battlefield and not through a dictated peace. That much, at least, is certain after a year of war,” Scholz said in a speech to parliament.
“Ukraine belongs to Europe, its future lies in the European Union. And this promise holds true,” Scholz said.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he had held a call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the need for more sanctions and military aid ahead of the anniversary.
“Russia would be making a grave mistake if it thought anyone would get tired of fighting the evil it brings,” Kuleba tweeted.