Zelenskyy says some allies ready to send jets as UK hesitates

Volodymyr Zelenskyy wraps up whistle-stop wartime trip aimed at securing additional arms from the West.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy said several European leaders have expressed a “readiness” to supply Kyiv with aircraft as the Ukrainian president wrapped up a rare, two-day trip outside of the country to seek new weaponry from the West.

“Europe will be with us until our victory. I’ve heard it from a number of European leaders … about the readiness to give us the necessary weapons and support, including the aircraft,” Zelenskyy told reporters in Brussels on Thursday.

“I have a number of bilaterals now; we are going to raise the issue of the fighter jets and other aircraft,” he said.

Ukraine’s leader gave no further details about the pledges, which would mark one of the biggest shifts yet in Western support for Ukraine if confirmed.

There was no immediate confirmation from any European countries of the alleged promises.

Zelenskyy had earlier received rapturous applause and cheers from the European Parliament and met a summit of the European Union’s 27 leaders, insisting in a showpiece address that his country’s fight with Russia was one for the freedom of all of Europe.

Kremlin warns West against supplying jets

To date, Ukraine’s Western backers have refused to send fighter jets to Kyiv amid fears of potentially escalating the war or becoming further embroiled themselves in the conflict.

Moscow has repeatedly warned it will retaliate against any such moves.

But the mood appeared to have begun to shift during Zelenskyy’s European tour, which began on Wednesday with trips to London and Paris.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged during the Ukrainian president’s visit that the United Kingdom would provide training for Ukrainian pilots on modern NATO combat aircraft.

A spokesman for Sunak’s government also said it was weighing whether to send Ukraine fighter jets in the “long-term”.

There were no such commitments from France and Germany later on Wednesday, but Paris is reported to be among a number of European capitals that is open to the prospect of sending jets to Ukraine as part of a collective Western decision.

The developments drew a furious response from Russia, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warning it would be Ukrainians who suffered if the UK or other Western countries supplied combat aircraft to Kyiv.

“The line between indirect and direct involvement is gradually disappearing. One can only express regret in this regard, and say that such actions … lead to an escalation of tension, prolong the conflict and make the conflict more and more painful for Ukraine,” Peskov said on Thursday.

Russian forces advance

Separately on Thursday, British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said there would be no immediate transfer of UK fighter jets to Ukraine.

“Britain hasn’t said it is necessarily going to send fighter jets to Ukraine,” Wallace said while on a visit to Rome.

He told the BBC it was “more realistic and more productive” for the UK to seek to provide Ukraine with aircraft in the long term to ensure its security after the war with Russia had concluded.

Russian forces have been advancing in Ukraine’s east in recent weeks for the first time in half a year, fortified with tens of thousands of freshly mobilised recruits, in relentless winter battles that both sides describe as some of the bloodiest of the war.

Kyiv says it expects Moscow to broaden its offensive as the invasion’s February 24 anniversary approaches.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” designed to “demilitarise and denazify” the country.

Kyiv and its Western allies have rejected all of Moscow’s rationales for its offensive, arguing it acted without provocation to wage a war of aggression aimed at seizing land and subjugating Ukraine.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies