Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday made his first visit to Britain since the Russian invasion of his country, with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promising extra military aid.
The Ukrainian leader will have an audience with King Charles III and address Parliament during the trip – only his second overseas visit since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded his country almost a year ago.
The prime minister announced plans to train Ukrainian pilots, paving the way for them eventually being able to fly sophisticated NATO-standard jets, a key request from Zelensky.
The prime minister embraced Zelensky as he arrived at Stansted Airport on just his second overseas visit since the war broke out – the president travelled to Washington in December last year.
Zelensky was wearing his usual outfit of military fatigues as he arrived in Downing Street for talks in No 10 with Sunak.
Sunak 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.
“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.
“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.”
The expansion of the UK’s training programme to include jet fighter pilots is significant as 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 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.”
Ukrainian troops are already being trained in the use of Challenger 2 tanks, which are expected to be sent to the country next month.
Sunak will offer longer-range firepower to help counter Russia’s ability to strike at Ukraine’s towns and energy facilities.
Britain also announced a fresh package of sanctions on Russian firms and allies of Putin to coincide with Zelensky’s surprise visit.
CST, a manufacturer of Russian drones and RT-Komplekt, which produces parts for helicopters used in the war against Ukraine, are among the entities sanctioned.
Five individuals linked to Putin’s luxury residences, including presidential commissioner for entrepreneurs’ rights Boris Titov and Aerostart owner Viktor Myachin, were also hit with travel bans and asset freezes.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “These new sanctions accelerate the economic pressure on Putin – undermining his war machine to help Ukraine prevail.
“I am determined, consistent with our laws, that Russia will have no access to the assets we have frozen until it ends, once and for all, its threats to Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and integrity.”