Ukraine: Zelenskyy’s request for F-16 jets discussed by experts
Rishi Sunak has asked Defense Secretary Ben Wallace to investigate what jets the UK could potentially give to Ukraine, Downing Street has said. The news emerged after Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, used his surprise visit to London to urge the UK and Western allies to provide “wings for freedom” by supplying his air force with advanced jets.
Volodymyr Zelensky is asking Rishi Sunak to send back jets to Ukraine
Earlier, Mr. Sunak announced plans to train Ukrainian pilots, paving the way for them to eventually be able to fly sophisticated Nato-standard jets, but that is seen as a long-term ambition.
Downing Street on Wednesday was keen to stress that any potential move to send jets would not happen immediately and was part of the UK’s long-term efforts to support Ukraine.
During his speech, in Westminster Hall, Mr. Zelensky thanked the UK for its steadfast support since Russia invaded.
However, as he presented a Ukrainian fighter ace’s helmet to Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, he said more planes were needed to defeat Vladimir Putin’s forces.
Mr. Zelensky said he wanted a coalition of nations to supply planes.
He said: “I appeal to you and the world with simple and yet most important words: combat aircraft for Ukraine, wings for freedom.”
Volodymyr Zelensky spoke in a packed Westminster Hall today
The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister has tasked the Defense Secretary with investigating what jets we might be able to provide but to be clear, this is a long-term solution, rather than a short-term capability, which is what Ukraine needs most now.”
But Downing Street emphasized that no decision had been taken on whether to supply UK jets.
The spokesperson added: “I think you can see from the steps that we are taking that we are willing to put Ukraine in the position where, once we have reached the goals of training pilots, they are able to fly these types of jets.
“What we have not made a decision on is whether we send UK fighter jets. Obviously there is an ongoing discussion among other countries about their own fighter jets, some of which are more akin to what Ukrainian pilots are used to.”
President Zelensky meets King Charles at Buckingham Palace
But the supply of British planes is being “actively” considered by Mr Wallace, the spokesman confirmed, saying: “We’ve confirmed there will be a training program for Ukrainian pilots and the Defense Secretary is actively looking at whether we send jets.”
Mr. Zelensky, who for the visit was dressed in his trademark khaki green military fatigues, met the King on Wednesday afternoon.
Earlier, to the audience gathered in Westminster Hall, Mr Zelensky had referred to Charles’ former military service in the Royal Air Force, saying: “The King is an air force pilot and in Ukraine today, every air force pilot is a king.”
He said that on his last trip to Parliament two years ago in peacetime, “I thanked you for delicious English tea”, but now he would be “thanking all of you in advance for powerful English planes”.
It was only Mr. Zelensky’s second time traveling overseas since the Russian invasion, after he held talks in the United States and Poland during a trip in December.
Volodymyr Zelensky with Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer
Addressing a packed Westminster Hall, Mr Zelensky told parliamentarians: “We know freedom will win. We know Russia will lose.
“And we really know that the victory will change the world and this will be a change that the world has long needed.
“The United Kingdom is marching with us towards the most, I think, the most important victory of our lifetime. It will be a victory over the very idea of war.”
Ahead of his speech, Mr. Zelensky visited Downing Street for talks with Mr. Sunak.
The Prime Minister promised training for pilots and also Ukrainian marines so they can “mount further offensives”.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Sunak and Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer staged a show of unity in support of the UK’s backing for Ukraine.
Sir Keir said “Putin and all his cronies must stand at the Hague and face justice” when the war is over.
Mr Sunak said he had discussed the situation with Mr Zelensky and “I’m hopeful we will see the first indictments very soon” at the International Criminal Court.
The expansion of the UK’s training program to include jet fighter pilots is significant given Mr. Zelensky’s call for Western planes.
The announcement by No 10 signals a shift for the future, and officials said that “as part of that long-term capability investment” the UK will work with Ukraine and international allies “to co-ordinate collective support to meet Ukraine’s defensive needs”.
Volodymyr Zelensky arrives at Number 10 today
It is part of a two-pronged strategy, offering military kit now to fend off a Russian spring offensive while also preparing Ukraine’s forces for the longer term.
Ukrainian troops are already being trained in the use of Challenger 2 tanks, which are expected to be sent to the country next month.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson also stepped up his call for the UK to provide more equipment – including jets – to Ukraine.
He said: “We have more than 100 Typhoon jets. We have more than 100 Challenger 2 tanks.
“The best single use for any of these items is to deploy them now for the protection of the Ukrainians – not least because that is how we guarantee our own long-term security.”
Boris Johnson in Westminster Hall
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