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POLITICO: UK may send fighter jets to Ukraine over ‘long-term’ after Zelenskyy plea

8-2-2023 |

Speaking during a surprise U.K. visit from Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Wednesday, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is now “actively looking at whether we send jets” to Ukraine.

He told reporters:

“The PM has tasked the defense secretary with investigating what jets we might be able to give — but to be clear this is a long-term solution.”

The comments came just hours after a rare address by Zelenskyy to both houses of the British parliament, during which the Ukrainian leader made a fresh plea for his country to be provided with fighter jets as it seeks to repel Russia’s invasion.

Downing Street has previously argued it is not “practical” to provide Ukraine with highly complex jets which will take extensive training to use, although it made clear at the same time that the U.K. would continue to “listen carefully” to Ukrainian requests for support.

Speaking Wednesday, Sunak’s spokesperson stressed that no decision has yet been taken on providing jets, and that the U.K. is taking a “multi-year approach to our support for Ukraine.”

The British prime minister already announced on Wednesday that the U.K. will now train pilots on the operation of NATO-standard fighter jets as well as marines. That will be coupled with an expansion of British training for Ukrainian military recruits, up from 10,000 to 20,000 soldiers this year.

Sunak’s spokesperson said the U.K. is hoping to receive the first Ukrainian pilots for training in the spring, and confirmed that the initiative would involve training them to fly British planes.

Addressing assembled lawmakers, Zelenskyy thanked Britain for “extended your helping hand” when the world did not yet know how to respond to Russia’s invasion, and made a series of pointed calls for for Western air help.

Zelenskyy presented the House of Commons Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, with the helmet of one of Ukraine’s most successful pilots, inscribed with a plea for modern fighter jets which read: “We have freedom, give us wings to protect it.”

Photo: Stefan Rousseau/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Ramping up the pressure on Sunak, Zelenskyy quipped he had left parliament two years earlier grateful for “delicious English tea” but this time added he would be leaving parliament “thanking all of you in advance for powerful English planes.”

It marks Zelenskyy’s first trip to the U.K. since Russia’s invasion almost a year ago and only his second confirmed journey outside Ukraine during the war, after visiting the United States.

The Ukrainian president arrived on a Royal Air Force plane at an airport north of London in a visit which had been a closely guarded secret until Wednesday morning.

The Ukrainian leader is also expected to travel to Brussels later this week, although a question mark has been placed over his visit after the plans leaked on Monday.