Rishi Sunak has said ‘nothing is off the table’ after Volodymyr Zelensky flew to England to ask him to send fighter jets to help Ukraine battle the Russian Army.
But the prime minister has still fallen short of promising to provide the ‘wings for freedom’ the Ukrainian war leader asked for in an earlier historic address to Parliament.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace had been asked to investigate what jets the UK could potentially give to Ukraine in its struggle against Vladimir Putin’s invading forces.
Mr Sunak and Mr Zelensky confirmed the issue of warplanes had been ‘part of the conversation’ today after they visited Lulworth Camp in Dorset to meet Ukrainian soldiers being trained by the British Army.
During a press conference, Mr Sunak said that UK Challenger 2 tanks would be sent to Ukraine next month – sooner than thought – but cautioned that the ‘first step’ on providing jets will take ‘some time’.
Denying there was any ‘reticence’, he said: ‘Throughout this conflict, we have been out in front.’
Following the announcement that Britain will train Ukrainian air force pilots as part of a long-term strategy, the British leader said it was important pilots can ‘actually operate the aircraft that they will be using’.
The two leaders were pictured signing a declaration of unity on Wednesday – stating how London and Kyiv were ‘confident, that together with our allies and partners, we will defeat Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion’.
Mr Zelensky said conversations had been ‘fruitful’ and thanked Britain for longtime support.
But he warned the war could ‘stagnate’ and ‘terrorists could live on our territory’ if jets were not forthcoming from the West.
‘Come on, we will be sending you pilots who’ve already trained for two and a half years,’ he joked with Mr Sunak.
Yet, Mr Zelensky has acknowledged that ‘not everything depends just on the decision of Great Britain’.
His comment came after Mr Sunak hinted that allies involved in producing the planes would need to have a say.
Asked about the prospect of giving British planes to Kyiv, he said: ‘When it comes to fighter combat aircraft, of course they are part of the conversation – indeed, we have been discussing that today and have been previously.
‘That’s why we have announced today that we will be training Ukrainian air force on Nato-standard platforms, because the first step in being able to provide advanced aircrafts is to have soldiers or aviators who are capable of using them.
‘That is a process that takes some time. We’ve started that process today, that’s because we are keen to support the president and his country in delivering a victory.
‘And nothing is off the table and our leadership on this issue is something we all collectively should be very proud of.’
Mr Zelensky said he would be travelling to other European capitals to hold further talks about supplying his air force.
The joint press briefing brought a close to a day in which Mr Zelensky addressed Parliament with an emotive speech, pleading for fighter planes.
He also met King Charles for the first time at Buckingham Palace.
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