UK promises Ukraine more weapons, angering Russia
Zelenskyy secures pledges of further arms as Ukraine prepares to step up assaults against Russian occupiers.
The United Kingdom has promised Ukraine further arms for its fight against Russia, as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a surprise stop to meet with his British counterpart.
Zelenskyy landed by helicopter on Monday at Chequers Court, the British leader’s official country retreat, where he was greeted by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak with a handshake and a hug.
Sunak’s office said that Britain was set to confirm it was giving Ukraine hundreds more air defence missiles, as well as “long-range attack drones” with a range of more than 200km (124 miles).
Zelenskyy, on his second trip to the UK since Russia invaded his country in February 2022, thanked his staunch ally and said the war was a matter of “security not only for Ukraine, it is important for all of Europe.”
Sunak told Zelenskyy that “your leadership, your country’s bravery and fortitude are an inspiration to us all”.
In the past few days, Zelenskyy has visited France, Germany and Italy, seeking more aid as Ukraine prepares a long-anticipated spring offensive to retake territory seized by Russia.
The Kremlin said it took London’s promise to supply Ukraine with more weapons “extremely negatively”, but at the same time believed the supplies would not drastically change the course of the war.
“Britain aspires to be at the forefront among countries that continue to pump weapons into Ukraine,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “We repeat once again, it cannot yield any drastic and fundamental influence on the way the special military operation [in Ukraine] is unfolding. But, definitely, it leads to further destruction, further action … It makes this whole story for Ukraine much more complicated.”
The UK has become one of Ukraine’s major military allies, sending Kyiv short-range missiles and Challenger tanks and training 15,000 Ukrainian troops on British soil.
Last week, Britain announced it had sent Ukraine Storm Shadow cruise missiles, which have a range of more than 250km (155 miles) – the first known shipment of the weaponry that Kyiv has long sought from its allies.
Russia’s Defence Ministry said for the first time on Monday that it had downed a Storm Shadow missile supplied to Ukraine by Britain.
In its daily briefing on the conflict, the ministry said that it had shot down the cruise missile, as well as shorter-range US-built HIMARS-launched and HARM missiles.
Britain is the first country to publicly supply Kyiv with long-range cruise missiles, which could allow Ukrainian forces to hit Russian troops and supply depots far behind the front lines as it prepares a major counteroffensive.
Meanwhile, Zelenskyy said more work was needed to have allies build a “fighter jet coalition” to provide Ukraine with vital air defences.
While Sunak’s spokesman said no planes would be provided, the prime minister said the UK would be a key part of the coalition and would begin training Ukrainian fighter pilots as soon as this summer.
Sunak will also push allies to deliver more support to Ukraine at a meeting of Group of Seven leaders in Japan later this week, Downing Street said.
Earlier, the office of French President Emmanuel Macron said his country would supply dozens of light tanks, armoured vehicles and more air defence systems “in the weeks ahead”, without giving specific numbers.
About 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers would also receive training in France this year and nearly 4,000 others in Poland as part of a wider European effort, Macron’s office said.
France had dispatched a plane to pick up Zelenskyy in Germany, where he met with Chancellor Olaf Scholz earlier 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 for Ukraine worth more than 2.7 billion euros ($3bn), including tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition.
After initially hesitating to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons, Germany has become one of the biggest suppliers of arms to Ukraine, including Leopard 1 and 2 battle tanks, and the sophisticated IRIS-T SLM air defence system. Modern Western hardware is considered crucial if Ukraine is to succeed in its planned counteroffensive.