LONDON (AP) — Britain’s prime minister pledged Monday to supply attack drones and hundreds of missiles to Ukraine after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the UK. Support must be mobilized in advance for a counterattack against Russian forces.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak greeted Zelenskyy with a handshake and hug after he landed by helicopter at Chequers, the British leader’s official homecoming. This is Zelensky’s second visit to the UK since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
Zelenskyy thanked Britain for its support so far and said the war was “important not only for Ukraine, but for all of Europe”.
“Your leadership, your country’s bravery and courage are an inspiration to all of us,” Sunak told Zelensky.
This is the fifth European country Zelensky has visited in the past three days, after Italy, the Vatican, Germany and France. He is seeking more help as Ukraine prepares a long-awaited spring offensive to retake territory seized by Russia.
The Kremlin said it took London’s promise of more weapons to Ukraine “very negatively,” but spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday it hoped the supplies would not drastically change the course of the war.
“Britain wants to be at the forefront of the flow of arms into Ukraine,” Peskov said. “We repeat, it cannot give any serious and fundamental influence on the way the special military operation unfolds (in Ukraine). But, of course, it leads to more destruction, more action. … This makes this whole story very complicated for Ukraine.
Sunak responded by pledging long-term UK support for Ukraine.
The UK has become one of Ukraine’s main military allies, sending Kyiv short-range missiles and Challenger tanks and training 15,000 Ukrainian troops on British soil. Britain announced last week It sent Ukraine Storm Shadow cruise missiles, which have a range of more than 250 kilometers (150 miles) — the first known export of weapons Kiev has long sought from its allies.
Sunak’s office said it would give Ukraine hundreds more air defense missiles and “long-range attack drones” with a range of more than 200 kilometers (120 miles).
“This is a critical moment in Ukraine’s resistance to a terrible war of aggression that they did not choose or provoke,” Sunak said. “They need the constant support of the international community to defend against the relentless and indiscriminate barrage of attacks that have been their daily reality for over a year.
“We must not let them down.”
Zelensky said one of his missions on the trip was to create a “fighter jet alliance” to provide vital air defenses to Ukraine. He said more work is needed in that field.
The Prime Minister said that while the UK would not provide the planes, it would be an important part of the alliance and would begin training Ukrainian fighter pilots this summer.
Downing Street said Sunak would also push allies to provide more support to Ukraine at a meeting of seven leaders in Japan later this week.
As Zelenskyy visits European capitals, Russia has stepped up attacks with drones and missiles across Ukraine. On Sunday, Russia shelled two communities in the northern border region of Sumy, regional officials said in a telegram. They said 109 explosions were reported.
Shellsky’s office said Monday’s shelling killed nine civilians and wounded 19 others. Six of the dead were in the Kherson region. Two civilians were killed in Suhui, in the Kharkiv region on the coast of the Sea of Azov, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from Russian-occupied Berdyansk.
The presidential office also said the shell was fired at Marhanets, across the river from the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant.
Zelensky’s stopover in Britain followed a previously unannounced visit to Paris on Sunday evening, where he met French President Emmanuel Macron..
Macron’s office said France would deliver dozens of light tanks, armored vehicles and several air defense systems “in the coming weeks,” without giving specific numbers.
About 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers will train in France and nearly 4,000 in Poland this year as part of a broader European effort, Macron’s office said.
France sent a plane to escort Zelensky to Germany, where he met with Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The previous Sunday.
It was his first visit to Berlin since the start of the invasion and came a day after the German government announced a new package of military aid to Ukraine worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion).
Germany overcame its initial reluctance to become the largest supplier of weapons to Ukraine, including the Leopard 1 and 2 battle tanks and the state-of-the-art IRIS-T SLM air defense system. Modern Western hardware is seen as critical if Ukraine is to succeed in a planned counterattack.
On Saturday, Zelenskyy met with Pope Francis at the Vatican and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in Rome.
During his European visit, Zelensky said that Ukraine aims to liberate Russian-occupied areas within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders and not attack Russian territory.
The Crimean Peninsula and parts of eastern Ukraine still occupied by Russia have predominantly Russian-speaking populations.
The Washington Post, citing previously undisclosed documents from US intelligence leaks, said Zelenskyy has considered seizing territory in Russia for possible use as bargaining chips in peace talks to end the war initiated by Moscow.
That would put him at odds with Western governments, which have insisted the weapons they supply should not be used to attack targets in Russia.
“We neither have the time nor the strength (to attack Russia),” an official translator said when asked about Zelenskyy’s statement. “And we don’t have weapons, we can do that.
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