UK promises attack drones and more missiles for Ukraine after Zelenskiy and Sunak meeting

Britain is the fifth European country Zelenskiy has visited in the past three days in his effort to beef up munitions before a counteroffensive

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hugs Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Aylesbury, Britain, on May 15, 2023.RISHI SUNAK (via REUTERS)

Britain’s prime minister promised Monday to provide Ukraine with attack drones and hundreds more missiles as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited the U.K. to drum up support in advance of a counteroffensive against Russian forces. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak greeted Zelenskiy with a handshake and a hug after he landed by helicopter at Chequers, the British leader’s official country retreat. It’s Zelenskiy’s second trip to the U.K. since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Zelenskiy thanked Britain for its support so far, and said the war was a matter of “security not only for Ukraine, it is important for all of Europe.” Sunak told Zelenskiy that “your leadership, your country’s bravery and fortitude are an inspiration to us all.”

This is the fifth European country Zelenskky has visited in the past three days, after Italy, the Vatican, Germany and France. He is 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 wouldn’t drastically change the course of the war, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday.

“Britain aspires to be at the forefront among countries that continue to pump weapons into Ukraine,” 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.”

Sunak responded by pledging the U.K.’s long-term support for Ukraine.

The U.K. 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 250 kilometers (150 miles) — the first known shipment of the weaponry that Kyiv has long sought from its allies.

Sunak’s office also said it was giving Ukraine hundreds more air defense missiles, as well as “long-range attack drones” with a range of more than 200 kilometers (120 miles).

“This is a crucial moment in Ukraine’s resistance to a terrible war of aggression they did not choose or provoke,” Sunak said. “They need the sustained support of the international community to defend against the barrage of unrelenting and indiscriminate attacks that have been their daily reality for over a year.

“We must not let them down.”

Zelenskiy had said one of his missions on the trip was to build a “fighter jet coalition” to provide Ukraine with vital defenses from the skies. He said more work was needed on that front.

While the U.K. will not provide the planes, the prime minister said it 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.

As Zelenskiy visited European capitals, Russia stepped up attacks across Ukraine with drones and missiles. On Sunday, Russia shelled two communities in the northern border region of Sumy, regional officials said on Telegram. They said 109 explosions were recorded.

Zelenskiy’s office said Monday that the shelling had killed nine civilians and injured 19 in the past day. Six of the deaths were in the Kherson region. Two civilians were killed in Chuhuiv in the Kharkiv region and one in Prymorsk, which is on the Azov Sea coast about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from Russian-occupied Berdyansk.

The presidential office also reported that Marhanets, which lies across the river from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, was shelled.

Zelenskiy’s stop in Britain followed a previously unannounced visit to Paris on Sunday evening, where he met French President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron’s office said France would supply dozens of light tanks, armored vehicles and more air defense 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 Zelenskiy 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 ($3 billion).

Germany overcame its initial hesitation to become one of the biggest suppliers of arms to Ukraine, including Leopard 1 and 2 battle tanks, and the sophisticated IRIS-T SLM air defense system. Modern Western hardware is considered crucial if Ukraine is to succeed in its planned counteroffensive.

On Saturday, Zelenskiy met Pope Francis at the Vatican and Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni in Rome.

During his European trip, Zelenskiy said Ukraine would aim to liberate Russian-occupied areas within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, and not attack Russian territory.

Among areas still occupied by Russia are the Crimean peninsula and parts of eastern Ukraine with mainly Russian-speaking populations.

The Washington Post cited previously undisclosed documents from a trove of U.S. intelligence leaks suggesting that Zelenskiy had considered trying to capture areas in Russia proper for possible use as bargaining chips in peace negotiations to end the war launched by Moscow.

This would put him at odds with Western governments that have insisted that weapons they provide must not be used to attack targets in Russia.

“We have neither the time nor the strength (to attack Russia),” Zelenskiy said when asked about the report, according to an official interpreter. “And we also don’t have weapons to spare with which we could do this.

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