Zelensky visits Britain amid U.K. pledge to train fighter pilots
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LONDON – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the British Parliament on Wednesday and will meet with King Charles III at Buckingham Palace in what is only his second trip abroad since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine almost a year ago.
He thanked Britain for its support and predicted victory over Russia with its help.
“We know that freedom will win, we know that Russia will lose,” he said. “We know that winning will change the world, and this will be the change that the world has long needed,” he said. “The United Kingdom is marching with us to the most important victory of our lives.”
Such is the security operation around these trips that Downing Street announced his visit just hours before the plane carrying Zelensky arrived at London’s Stansted Airport – a moment broadcast live on the BBC.
Zelensky may also visit Brussels on Thursday, according to various media. His first international trip was in December, when he traveled to Washington to address a joint session of Congress and rally for continued American support.
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Britain sees itself playing a leading role in Ukraine and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, like his predecessors, is an outspoken supporter. On Wednesday, Sunak pledged further military support, including the training of Ukrainian fighter pilots. This is still short of Zelensky’s demands for actual fighter jets.
Boris Johnson, the former British prime minister, has argued that the West should be more willing to send sophisticated aircraft to Ukraine. He was not speaking for the British government.
“Give Ukrainians the tools to get the job done. Give them the deep fire artillery systems, give them the tanks, give them the planes, because they have a plan. They know what they have to do,” he said in a recent speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington.
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After the United States, Britain is the largest donor of military aid to Ukraine. According to a recent parliamentary report, it has given $2.8 billion in military aid so far and has pledged to match that in 2023.
The UK is also leading Operation Interflex, an initiative with other allies that brings Ukrainian troops to Britain for training.
“As part of today’s talks, the Prime Minister will offer to strengthen the UK’s training offer for Ukrainian troops, including extending it to fighter pilots to ensure Ukraine can defend its skies well into the future Downing Street said in a statement.
Although this is the first time the Ukrainian leader will address the British Parliament in person, he spoke to lawmakers last year via video and received standing ovations.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said Charles will hold an audience with Zelensky there in the afternoon.
Zelensky will also hold talks with Sunak, as well as defense and security chiefs, as part of a visit the prime minister described as a “testament to the unbreakable friendship” between the countries.
“Since 2014, the UK has provided vital training to Ukrainian forces, allowing them to defend their country, defend their sovereignty and fight for their territory,” Sunak said.
Downing Street also said Britain would announce further sanctions on Wednesday targeting “those who have helped [Russian President Vladimir] Putin builds his own personal wealth and companies that are profiting from the Kremlin’s war machine.”
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