UK promises more missiles, attack drones for Ukraine as Zelenskyy meets Sunak on European tour
Associated Press May 15, 2023
LONDON — Ukraine President Volodymyr, on a whirlwind European tour, pressed Britain on Monday to join a “fighter jet coalition” in advance of a counteroffensive against Russian forces, instead securing a commitment of attack drones and hundreds more missiles.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak greeted Zelenskyy with a handshake and hug after his helicopter landed at Chequers, the British leader’s official country retreat. It’s Zelenskyy’s second trip to the U.K. since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
This is the fifth European country Zelenskky has visited in the past three days, after Italy, the Vatican, Germany and France. He is seeking more aid as Ukraine prepares a long-anticipated spring offensive to retake territory that Russia has seized.
The Kremlin reacted to the new weapons pledge “extremely negatively,” but at the same time believed the supplies wouldn’t drastically change the course of the war, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday.
“Britain aspires to be at the forefront among countries that continue to pump weapons into Ukraine,” Peskov said. “We repeat once again: It cannot yield any drastic and fundamental influence on the way the special military operation (in Ukraine) is unfolding. But, definitely, it leads to further destruction... It makes this whole story for Ukraine much more complicated.”
Zelenskyy said one of the missions of his European trip was to build a “fighter jet coalition” to provide Ukraine with vital aerial capabilities. He said more work was needed on that front.
While the U.K. will not provide the planes, the prime minister said the country would join the coalition and begin a previously announced training program for Ukrainian fighter pilots as soon as this summer.
The U.K. has become one of Ukraine’s major military allies, providing short-range missiles and Challenger tanks and training 15,000 Ukrainian troops on British soil. Last week, Britain announced it had sent Ukraine Storm Shadow cruise missiles, whose range is more than 150 miles — the first known shipment of longer-range weaponry that Kyiv has long sought from its allies.
Sunak’s office said it was giving Ukraine hundreds more air defense missiles, as well as “long-range attack drones” with a reach of more than 120 miles.
“This is a crucial moment in Ukraine’s resistance to a terrible war of aggression they did not choose or provoke,” Sunak said. “They need the sustained support of the international community to defend against the barrage of unrelenting and indiscriminate attacks that have been their daily reality for over a year.
“We must not let them down.”
Sunak will also push allies to deliver more support to Ukraine at a meeting of Group of Seven leaders in Japan later this week, Downing Street said.
As Zelenskyy visited European capitals, Russia stepped up attacks across Ukraine with drones and missiles. On Sunday, Russia shelled two communities in the northern border region of Sumy, regional officials said on Telegram. They said 109 explosions were recorded.
Zelenskyy’s office said Monday that the shelling had killed nine civilians and injured 19 in the past day. Six of the deaths were in the Kherson region. Two civilians were killed in Chuhuiv in the Kharkiv region and one in Prymorsk, on the Azov Sea coast about 12 miles from Russian-occupied Berdyansk.
The presidential office also reported that Marhanets, which lies across the river from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, was shelled.
In the Russian-occupied city of Luhansk, Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti reported that the acting regional interior minister, Igor Kornet, was injured in an explosion in a barbershop. Luhansk’s separatist head, Leonid Pasechnik, is quoted as saying the explosion was a bomb.
Assassination attempts and sabotage attacks have increased in Russian-occupied territory as well as Russia proper. Russian authorities often blame Ukrainian forces but Kyiv rarely acknowledges such attacks.
Zelenskyy traveled to Britain from Paris, where he met Sunday with French President Emmanuel Macron and secured a pledge of light tanks, armored vehicles and air defense systems.
About 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers would receive training in France this year and nearly 4,000 others in Poland, Macron’s office said.
Speaking Monday on French television network TF1, Macron said training on French fighter jets such as the Mirage 2000 “can start now” but rejected the idea of France delivering warplanes to Ukraine.
Zelenskyy also met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Sunday. It was his first visit to Berlin since the start of the invasion and came a day after the German government announced military aid for Ukraine worth more than 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion).
Modern Western hardware is considered crucial if Ukraine is to succeed in its planned counteroffensive. During his European trip, Zelenskyy said Ukraine would aim to liberate Russian-occupied areas within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders and would not attack Russian territory.
Among areas Russia still occupies are the Crimean Peninsula and parts of eastern Ukraine with mainly Russian-speaking populations.