June 20. 2024. 12:45

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‘Give us wings’: Ukraine’s president asks Britain for fighter jets in Westminster speech

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has promised the world “a victory over the very idea of war” in a rousing address to members of Britain’s Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

Mr Zelenskiy also used his lunchtime speech to make a direct appeal to the British government to supply his country with fighter jets for use in its war against Russia, which invaded Ukraine one year ago this month.

Ukraine’s leader addressed the Houses of Parliament as part of a surprise trip to Britain on Wednesday, during which he also met King Charles. He was earlier met on the tarmac at Stansted airport, just north of London, by prime minister Rishi Sunak, with whom he held a meeting at 10 Downing Street.

Mr Zelenskiy made his speech from high on the steps at one end of the vast, 900-year old Westminster Hall, which sits on the parliamentary estate in central London, adjacent to the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The assembled audience of MPs and peers included leaders and elected members of all parties. Former prime minister Boris Johnson, whom Mr Zelenskiy singled out for praise, was among the crowd standing on the hall’s flagstone steps.


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Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has paid a surprise visit to London to meet UK prime minister Rishi Sunak and address parliament. Video: Reuters

The Ukrainian president thanked Britain for its early support in its military struggle and he urged it to continue to buttress his nation in its war against Russia. He predicted that victory for Ukraine would result in “a new reality of the free world”.

“We know Russia will lose. The victory will change the world,” he said, adding that it wouldbe a “victory that the world has long needed”.

He said if Ukraine won the war, “aggressors” such as the “terrorist state” of Russia would learn “what awaits them... if they attack international order”. He said aggressors must not enjoy immunity and their assets should be used to compensate victims of their aggression.

He said allowing “evil” was part of human nature, but “the light side of human nature will prevail”. Ingratiating himself with his audience, he recalled how he had first visited Westminster in October 2020 and sat in a chair famously used by Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill. It gave him a feeling, he said, which he now recognised as the knowledge that sometimes people must go through “the most unimaginable hardships” to reach victory.

“Freedom will win,” he said, of Ukraine’s war against Russia.

Mr Zelenskiy thanked Britain for supplying Ukraine with Challenger battle tanks, and then, to laughs from the assembled politicians, he thanked the country “in advance” for the “modern planes” he said were needed to help protect Ukrainians. He said that in Britain “the king is an air force pilot, and in Ukraine, every air force pilot is a king”.

He then presented House of Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle with a helmet from a Ukrainian pilot, upon which was written was a request: “We have freedom. Give u wings to protect it.”

Thirty minutes after his address ended, his convoy swept out of Westminster, as his meeting with King Charles awaited.

It was his first visit to the UK since the Russian invasion of his country, and he secured a promise from Mr Sunak of extra military aid.

The British prime minister announced plans to train Ukrainian pilots, paving the way for them eventually being able to fly sophisticated Nato-standard jets, a key request from Mr Zelenskiy.

Mr Sunak embraced Mr Zelenskiy as he arrived at Stansted Airport on just his second overseas visit since the war broke out – the president travelled to Washington in December last year.

Mr Zelenskiy was wearing his usual outfit of military fatigues as he arrived at Downing Street for talks in No 10 with Mr Sunak.

Mr Sunak said: “President Zelenskiy’s visit to the UK is a testament to his country’s courage, determination and fight, and a testament to the unbreakable friendship between our two countries.

“Since 2014, the UK has provided vital training to Ukrainian forces, allowing them to defend their country, protect their sovereignty and fight for their territory.

“I am proud that today we will expand that training from soldiers to marines and fighter jet pilots, ensuring Ukraine has a military able to defend its interests well into the future.

“It also underlines our commitment to not just provide military equipment for the short term, but a long-term pledge to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine for years to come.”

Mr Zelenskiy thanked the UK for its “big support from the first days of full-scale invasion”.

Ahead of Mr Zelenskiy’s address in parliament, Mr Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer staged a show of unity at prime minister’s questions, with both speaking in support of the UK’s support for Ukraine.

Mr Starmer said “[Russia’s president Vladimir] Putin and all his cronies must stand at The Hague and face justice” when the war is over.

Mr Sunak said he had discussed the situation with Mr Zelenskiy and “I’m hopeful we will see the first indictments very shortly” at the International Criminal Court.

The expansion of the UK’s training programme to include jet fighter pilots is significant as Mr Zelenskiy has been urging Western nations to supply planes.

The UK has so far refused, arguing that the RAF’s F-35 and Typhoon jets take too long for pilots to train on.

But the announcement by No 10 signals a shift for the future, and officials said that “as part of that long-term capability investment” the UK will work with Ukraine and international allies “to co-ordinate collective support to meet Ukraine’s defensive needs”.

Ukrainian troops are already being trained in the use of Challenger 2 tanks, which are expected to be sent to the country next month.

Mr Sunak will offer longer-range firepower to help counter Russia’s ability to strike at Ukraine’s towns and energy facilities.

The UK also announced a fresh package of sanctions on Russian firms and allies of Mr Putin to coincide with Mr Zelenskiy’s surprise visit.

CST, a manufacturer of Russian drones and RT-Komplekt, which produces parts for helicopters used in the war against Ukraine, is among the entities sanctioned.

Five individuals linked to Mr Putin’s luxury residences, including presidential commissioner for entrepreneurs’ rights Boris Titov and Aerostart owner Viktor Myachin, were also hit with travel bans and asset freezes.

Foreign secretary James Cleverly said: “These new sanctions accelerate the economic pressure on Putin – undermining his war machine to help Ukraine prevail.

“I am determined, consistent with our laws, that Russia will have no access to the assets we have frozen until it ends, once and for all, its threats to Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and integrity.” – Additional reporting: PA