Zelensky in surprise visit to UK – first since Russia invasion
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky will make his first visit to the UK since Russia’s invasion of his country today, Downing Street has said.
No 10 said the surprise visit would see the war leader meet Rishi Sunak and address MP in parliament later on Wednesday.
The prime minister also announced plans to train Ukrainian fighter jet pilots as part of a long-term UK investment in its ally.
Boris Johnson has criticised Mr Sunak’s decision not to send fighter jets after No 10 said last week that it was “not practical” to send British aircraft to the warzone.
Mr Sunak said on Wednesday that he was “proud” to announce an expansion in training from soldiers to fighter jet pilots and marines, “ensuring Ukraine has a military able to defend its interests well into the future”.
The prime minister said: “President Zelensky’s visit to the UK is a testament to his country’s courage, determination and fight, and a testament to the unbreakable friendship between our two countries.”
“Since 2014, the UK has provided vital training to Ukrainian forces, allowing them to defend their country, protect their sovereignty and fight for their territory,” Mr Sunak said.
He added: “It also underlines our commitment to not just provide military equipment for the short term, but a long-term pledge to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine for years to come.”
Mr Zelensky will also use his surprise visit to the UK on Wednesday to inspect Ukraine’s troops being trained by the British armed forces.
The expansion of the UK’s training to include jet fighter pilots is significant as Mr Zelensky has been urging Western nations to supply planes. The UK has so far refused, arguing that the RAF’s F-35 and Typhoon jets take too long for pilots to train on.
But the announcement by No 10 signals a shift. 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”.
Ukrainian troops are already being trained in the use of Challenger 2 tanks, expected to be sent to the country next month. Mr Sunak will offer longer-range firepower to help counter Russia’s ability to strike at Ukraine’s towns and energy plants.
Mr Zelensky gave a historic virtual address to the Commons in March 2022, echoing Winston Churchill and comparing his country’s fight to Britain’s battle against the Nazis.
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