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As Zelensky Requests Jets, Sunak Remains Silent


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President Zelensky: On behalf of Ukrainians, thank you Britain

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said “nothing is off the table” after Volodymyr Zelensky urged the UK to supply Ukraine with fighter jets.

Ukraine’s president, who was visiting the UK for the first time since Russia’s invasion, expressed gratitude for the equipment received so far.

But he warned that supplies were “running out” and that this could result in “stagnation” in the conflict.

The UK is to start training Ukrainian forces to fly Nato-standard jets.

Downing Street said Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is investigating what aircraft the UK could potentially offer, but emphasised this was “a long-term solution” and that training pilots could take years.

President Zelensky’s surprise visit to the UK began with meetings in Downing Street, after which he addressed a huge crowd of MPs and peers in the historic setting of Westminster Hall.

“Freedom will win – we know Russia will lose,” he told the audience, adding the UK was with his country on a march to “the most important victory of our lifetime”.

Thanking the UK for its “grit”, he said the country, through its support of Ukraine, had not compromised the “spirit and ideals of these great islands”.

He also singled out Boris Johnson for praise, saying the former prime minister had united others “when it seemed impossible”.

During his speech, which was met with applause throughout, the Ukrainian leader presented House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle with the helmet of a Ukrainian pilot.

The writing on the helmet reads: “We have freedom, give us wings to protect it.”

Reflecting on his last visit to the UK, in 2020, he recalled thanking his hosts “for delicious English tea”.

“I will be leaving Parliament today, thanking you all in advance for powerful English planes.”

Mr Johnson echoed his calls in a statement saying: “It is time to give the Ukrainians the extra equipment they need to defeat Putin and to restore peace to Ukraine. That means longer range missiles and artillery, it means more tanks, it means planes.”

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Analysis box by Jonathan Beale, defence correspondent

The day started with a commitment from the UK to help train Ukrainian pilots.

But following an impassioned plea by Zelensky for fighter jets themselves, that pledge gradually shifted.

The PM has now ordered the defence secretary to examine ways that the UK can provide Ukraine with fighter jets.

The RAF has a limited number of aircraft it could theoretically provide Ukraine – including about 20 older Typhoon jets.

However, there is a danger Britain is writing cheques it will struggle to cash.

The RAF is already facing a backlog in the training of its own fast jet pilots, maintenance and upkeep of older aircraft is also more difficult.

Even the prime minister has admitted that if Britain does supply fast jets, it will be for the longer term not the near future

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As the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion approaches, Western countries have been considering how to bolster support for Ukraine, with the country braced for a renewed Russian offensive later this month.

The expansion of the UK’s training programme signals a shift, after the UK said it was “not practical” for it to send its aircraft to Ukraine.

Earlier this year, the UK also announced it would send 14 battle tanks to Ukraine. President Zelensky praised Mr Sunak for taking this “powerful defensive step”.

President Zelensky was applauded throughout his speech by an audience which included Rishi Sunak, Labour leader Keir Starmer, SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn and the Lib Dem’s Ed DaveyImage source, HoC

Image caption,
President Zelensky was applauded throughout his speech by an audience which included Rishi Sunak, Labour leader Keir Starmer, SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn and the Lib Dem’s Ed Davey

In his address to Parliament, he also urged the UK and the West to continue imposing sanctions “until Russia is deprived of any possibility to finance the war”.

“Anyone who invests in terror must be held accountable, anyone who invests in violence must compensate those who have suffered from terror.”

On Wednesday, the UK announced a fresh round of sanctions targeting Russia.

The latest sanctions target IT companies, as well as manufacturers of military equipment such as drones and helicopter parts.

After speaking to Parliament, President Zelensky met King Charles at Buckingham Palace.

On Wednesday afternoon he joined the prime minister on a visit to Dorset where Ukrainian troops are training to use Challenger 2 tanks.

The two men signed the London Declaration – a statement affirming the UK-Ukraine partnership – before holding a joint press conference.

He has now arrived in Paris, where he is meeting French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

On Thursday he will meet EU leaders and is expected to continue his push for further military assistance as well as Ukraine’s aspirations to join the EU.

King Charles and Volodymyr ZelenskyImage source, PA Media

Image caption,
Ahead of their meeting, President Zelensky said he wanted to convey to King Charles Ukraine’s gratitude for his support

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‘The real deal’
Political reporter Brian Wheeler from Westminster Hall

“He’s the real deal. You don’t get many leaders quite like that in the world.”

Labour’s Stephen Doughty – like many crowded into Westminster Hall – was left with a sense of awe by President Zelensky’s speech.

One or two were overcome with emotion, brushing away a tear as they listened to his impassioned words, delivered entirely in English.

For Mr Doughty, a member of the all-party Ukraine group, who has visited the country recently, it was Mr Zelensky’s “V for victory” sign at the end of his speech that was the most powerful moment.

The president had made a reference to Sir Winston Churchill, as he often does when addressing a British audience.

But it was the fact Mr Zelensky was bathed in sunlight streaming through stained glass windows that are a memorial to those lost in two world wars that will stay with the Labour MP.

“The symbolism of that is incalculable,” he said.

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Speaking to BBC Newscast after the speech, Sir Lindsay described the atmosphere in Westminster Hall during President Zelensky’s speech as “very, very moving”.

“You could hear a pin drop,” he said, adding “there were lots of tears… I was speaking to a senior member of Parliament who said: ‘I just couldn’t stop crying.'”

He also said he was planning to display the pilot’s helmet in the Speaker’s House in Parliament or in his Chorley constituency.

Source: bbc

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