Ukrainian President Zelensky Visits Britain with U.K. Pledging to Train Fighter Pilots


LONDON — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the British Parliament on Wednesday and will meet King Charles III at Buckingham Palace in what is only his second trip abroad since the Russian invasion of Ukraine almost a year ago.

He thanked Britain for its support and predicted victory over Russia with its help.

“We know freedom will win, we know Russia will lose,” he said. “We know the victory will change the world and this will be the change that the world has long needed,” he said. “The United Kingdom is marching with us towards the most important victory of our lifetime.”

Such is the security operation around these trips that Downing Street announced his visit only a few hours before the aircraft carrying Zelensky arrived at London’s Stansted Airport — a moment broadcast live on the BBC.

Zelensky may also visit Brussels on Thursday, according to various media outlets. His first international trip was in December, when he traveled to Washington to address a joint session of Congress and rally for continued American support.

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Britain sees itself as playing a leading role on Ukraine, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, like his predecessors, is an outspoken supporter. On Wednesday, Sunak pledged further military support, including the training of Ukrainian fighter pilots. That is still short of the requests from Zelensky for actual fighter jets.

Boris Johnson, the former British prime minister, has argued that the West should be more willing to send Ukraine sophisticated planes. He was not speaking on behalf of the British government.

“Give the Ukrainians the tools to finish the job. Give them the deep fire artillery systems, give them the tanks, give them the planes, because they have a plan. They know what they need to do,” he said in a recent speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

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After the United States, Britain is the largest donor of military assistance to Ukraine. According to a recent parliamentary briefing paper, it has committed $2.8 billion in military assistance so far and has pledged to match that in 2023.

The U.K. is also leading on Operation Interflex, an initiative with other allies that brings Ukrainian troops to Britain for training.

“As part of today’s talks, the Prime Minister will offer to bolster the U.K.’s training offer for Ukrainian troops, including expanding it to fighter jet pilots to ensure Ukraine can defend its skies well into the future,” Downing Street said in a statement.

Although this is the first time the Ukrainian leader will address the British Parliament in person, he did speak to lawmakers last year via video and received a standing ovation.

A spokesman for Buckingham Palace said Charles will hold an audience with Zelensky there in the afternoon.

Zelensky will also talk with Sunak as well as the defense and security chiefs as part of a visit that the prime minister described as “testament to the unbreakable friendship” between the countries.

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

Downing Street also said that Britain will announce further sanctions on Wednesday that will target “those who have helped [Russian President Vladimir] Putin build his personal wealth, and companies who are profiting from the Kremlin’s war machine.”