Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the UK on Wednesday, marking his first trip to the country since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and pleaded for London to provide Kyiv with fighter jets in a speech to the British parliament.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appears ready to oblige Zelensky’s request and asked his defense minister, Ben Wallace, to look at providing fighter jets to Kyiv as part of “long-term” support for Ukraine. A spokesman for Sunak said Wallace is now “actively looking at whether we send jets.”
“The PM has tasked the defense secretary with investigating what jets we might be able to give — but to be clear this is a long-term solution,” the spokesman told reporters, according to POLITICO.
While there’s been no commitment from the British to send jets to Ukraine, Sunak said his government will begin training Ukrainian pilots this spring. “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,” Sunak said.
Sunak’s spokesman said that they expect to receive the first Ukrainians for pilot training this spring. The UK has been hosting Ukrainian soldiers for training and says 10,000 have already completed the course. They plan to train another 20,000 Ukrainians in 2023.
While the US and its NATO allies have yet to commit to sending fighter jets to Kyiv, Ukrainian officials are confident they will receive them. Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Kyiv has already received everything on its “wish list to Santa” except planes.
Zelensky was due to arrive in Paris on Wednesday night, where he will hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and likely push more for fighter jets.
Providing fighter jets would mark a significant escalation in support for Ukraine and would be another step that brings NATO and Russia closer to a direct clash. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu warned that increasing Western military support threatens “unpredictable consequences.”