(London) In London for his second visit abroad since the Russian invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky obtained pilot training on Wednesday, an apparent first step towards deliveries of fighter planes claimed by Kyiv.
Almost a year after the start of the invasion, Ukraine is calling for increased and accelerated Western military aid in the face of the Russian army’s recent successes in the Donbass, in eastern Ukraine, and the fear of a major offensive in the coming weeks.
Expected Thursday in Brussels for a summit of the European Union, Volodymyr Zelensky landed at London Stansted airport in a Royal Air Force aircraft. He was welcomed there by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak before returning to 10 Downing Street, to applause.
Remained secret until the last hours, this visit “testifies to the courage of his country, its determination and its fight”, insisted Mr. Sunak in a press release.
After their interview, Volodymyr Zelensky is due to address Parliament, before traveling to the southwest of England to meet Ukrainian soldiers in training. He is also due to meet King Charles III at Buckingham Palace in the afternoon.
This is the first time that Volodymyr Zelensky has left Ukrainian territory since a visit of a few hours on December 21 to Washington. He was then received at the White House by President Joe Biden and spoke before the US Congress, whose elected officials from both chambers gave him a standing ovation.
For its trip to the United Kingdom, London promised to release “an immediate increase in deliveries of military equipment to help counter Russia’s spring offensive”, including longer-range capabilities than what the United Kingdom has available. Ukrainian army so far, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s office.
This will be in addition to “long-term support” in the form of training for Ukrainian troops, extended to fighter pilots “to ensure that Ukraine can defend its airspace in the future.” »
“This training will enable pilots to be able to fly sophisticated combat aircraft meeting NATO standards”, as claimed by Kyiv, it added.
London also announced a strengthening of its sanctions against the Russian defense sector and in particular the production of drones.
“Long term commitment”
Speaking from Downing Street, Mr Zelensky thanked the UK for the “great support (of the country) since the early days of the Russian invasion”. ” Thank you so much. We are really proud and we have a very good relationship with Rishi” Sunak, he added.
The UK provided Kyiv with 2.3 billion pounds (2.5 billion euros) in military aid last year. The government is committed to maintaining this level of aid this year, the second in the world after the United States.
London delivered lethal weapons to the Ukrainian army even before the launch of the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, and was the first country to announce in January its intention to send it heavy tanks, 14 Challengers 2, before to be followed by Germany with its Leopards and the United States with their Abrams.
Rishi Sunak, on the other hand, has been reluctant to deliver fighter jets, estimating last week that it would require “months” or even “years” of training for pilots.
Pilot training therefore seems to open the door to such deliveries.
This announcement, argued Rishi Sunak, “underlines our desire not to be satisfied with providing short-term military equipment, but to make a long-term commitment to support Ukraine in the years to come. »
On the American side, the head of Ukrainian diplomacy Dmytro Kouleba spoke on Tuesday with the American Secretary of State Antony Blinken of “new military aid and new sanctions against Russia” in the run-up to the anniversary of the ‘invasion.
“Russia would be making a big mistake if they thought anyone would tire of fighting the evil they bring,” he tweeted.
In the immediate future, Kyiv is worried about not receiving Western armor in time to repel a possible new large-scale Russian attack.
On Tuesday, Russia even claimed the “success” of its recent offensive in eastern Ukraine.
In Russian bookstores, new maps have been put on sale including in Russian territory the four Ukrainian regions annexed last year, regularly described by Russian President Vladimir Putin as “historic lands” of Russia.
Scholz convinced that Putin “will not achieve his goals”
Russian President Vladimir Putin “will not achieve his goals” in Ukraine, neither on the “battlefield” nor by “imposing a peace treaty”, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Wednesday, insisting on the intact unity of the Western allies in their support for Kyiv.
“This is the conclusion that can be made after a year of war,” said the Chancellor during a speech to the deputies of the Bundestag before the summit of EU leaders Thursday in Brussels.
“It has been like this since day one: the cohesion within our alliances is our most precious asset”, he insisted, reaffirming that the allies would help Ukraine to defend “its sovereignty and its territorial integrity […] as long as necessary”.
Germany has hosted more than one million Ukrainian refugees since the start of the invasion on February 24, 2022, and has provided an overall aid amount of 12 billion euros for the country. “This support continues in 2023,” he said.
The country also helps Kyiv militarily, in close collaboration with its partners.
“We strengthen and protect this cohesion by preparing decisions between us confidentially, and then communicating them,” he said, referring to the recent announcement by Germany and the United States to deliver tanks to Ukraine to help push back Russian troops in the east of the country.
What harms the unity of the allies, on the other hand, are the debates in the public square concerning the delivery of arms, “on the theme of battle tanks, submarines, combat planes”, a- he criticized.
“Any dissonance, any speculation about possible differences only serves Putin and his propaganda,” he warned. Berlin has been criticized for procrastinating in giving the green light to the delivery of heavy combat tanks and Olaf Scholz has repeatedly stated that he is against the option of supplying Kyiv with combat aircraft.
The Chancellor also reiterated Germany’s strong support for Ukraine’s ambitions to join the EU, at a time when President Volodomyr Zelensky wants to speed up his country’s accession talks.
“Ukraine belongs to Europe, its future is in the European Union! And this promise counts, ”said Olaf Scholz.
The highest officials of the European Union met last Friday in Kyiv to show their support for Ukraine’s accession process.