British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak welcomed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the United Kingdom today, where the Eastern European leader urged Britain and other Western nations to send military aircraft to reinforce Ukraine’s air force as the Russo-Ukrainian War creeps close to being a year in length on the anniversary of the start of the invasion on February 24th. Ukraine’s air force especially suffered losses during the earlier stages of the war, but as Russian air focus has increased on establishing stronger defenses and air superiority, the Ukrainian supply of mostly older Soviet fighter jets and combat aircraft in general is in shorter supply.
The U.K. has already trained 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers in the past six months and has pledged to keep that number consistent with 20,000 to be trained in the coming year. During Zelensky’s visit, it was made clear that Britain would soon begin training Ukrainian pilots as well, and that in terms of assistance, “nothing was off the table” pertaining to aircraft delivery, with Sunak signaling towards wanting to send them. Sunak also announced an accelerated timeline for the arrival of Challenger 2 tanks in Ukraine, now set for March. Last week, Ukrainian troops arrived in the U.K. to train on tanks.
“The first step in being able to provide advanced aircrafts is to have soldiers or aviators that are capable of using them. That is a process that takes some time. We’ve started that process today,” Sunak said alongside Zelensky at an army camp in Dorset, southwest England.
Zelensky was welcomed in the British Parliament and presented the helmet of a Ukrainian pilot to the speaker of the House of Commons. Inscribed: “We have freedom, give us wings to protect it.”
Sunak’s spokesperson said the British defense secretary would investigate what jets Britain might be able to give, “but to be clear this is a long-term solution, rather than a short-term capability which is what Ukraine needs most now”. In response to the discussion of sending planes to Ukraine, Russian-state news agency TASS cited Russia’s embassy in Britain as warning that any delivery of British fighter jets to Ukraine would have serious military and political ramifications.