Rishi Sunak says ‘nothing off table’ after Zelenskyy travels to UK to make plea for fighter jets

Politics

Rishi Sunak has said “nothing is off the table” when it comes to assisting the war effort in Ukraine and fighter jets “are part of the conversation”.

It comes after Volodymyr Zelenskyy used a speech at Westminster Hall to urge the UK and Western allies to provide “wings for freedom” by supplying his air force with advanced jets.

Later at a military site in Dorset alongside the Ukrainian president, the prime minister was asked “to provide absolute clarity” on whether Ukraine will receive jets from the UK and, if so, when.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meet Ukrainian troops being trained to command Challenger 2 tanks at a military facility in Lulworth, Dorset. Picture date: Wednesday February 8, 2023.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shake hands after meeting Ukrainian troops being trained to command Challenger 2 tanks at a military facility in Lulworth, Dorset. Picture date: Wednesday February 8, 2023.

“We’ve been very clear and we’ve been clear for a long time that when it comes to the provision of military assistance to Ukraine, nothing is off the table,” Mr Sunak said.

“When it comes to fighter combat aircraft of course they are part of the conversation.”

After the Western world came together to agree on sending tanks to Ukraine, Kyiv is requesting warplanes to repel the Russian invasion.

Mr Zelenskyy told the news conference that without more military assistance “there will be stagnation, these people [Russian soldiers] will be living on our territory and this poses great risk to all of the world”.

Downing Street said the prime minister has asked Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to investigate what warplanes the UK could supply but stressed any potential move to do so would not happen immediately.

Mr Sunak denied the UK was being reticent when asked what was holding him back from sending the jets.

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President Zelenskyy has presented the UK with a Ukrainian pilot’s helmet as he asked for fighter jets to be sent to combat the Russian invasion.

“I think we have been the most forward-leading country in trying to bring about a Ukrainian victory,” he said – pointing to the decision to send Challenger 2 tanks, which he confirmed would arrive next week.

The PM suggested the training of Ukrainian pilots to fly British jets is a first step towards supplying them to help push out Vladimir Putin from the country and said there are also “supply-chain needs” that go alongside this sort of aircraft.

A remorseless logic behind latest requests


Dominic Waghorn - Diplomatic editor

Dominic Waghorn

International Affairs Editor

@DominicWaghorn

President Zelenskyy spent much of the day pressing home his government’s case for the West to send his country fighter jets.

But he was strangely reluctant to spell out why when given several chances to do so at a news conference.

The most he would say was there would be a stagnation in the conflict if he does not receive the jets and other kinds of weapons from the West.

His advisers have been far more apocalyptic in their predictions than that – the reason? Possibly because Britain does not have many jets to spare.

Ukraine says it wants multirole aircraft that can both dog fight in the air and bomb targets on the ground.

It has Typhoons but mostly of the variety that only dog fight. The few that can do both are in desperately short supply.

Ditto with the prestigious but fabulously expensive F35s. It had multirole Tornados but they’ve been sent to Germany to be cannibalised for spares.

Zelenskyy seems to have been using the UK to trail the case for jets that he will be arguing more forcefully among other allies in Europe and America.

So why is the Ukrainian president asking for jets? After all he has only just been given battle tanks. Is Ukraine’s appetite for ever more sophisticated weaponry insatiable?

The day started with talk of fighter jets but ended up at a British Army tank base for good reason.

Military experts insist that the modern battle tanks being sent to Ukraine can only be truly effective if they are given effective air cover and Ukraine does not have enough planes for that.

There is a kind of remorseless logic behind the Ukrainians’ latest requests.

“We are having conversations with our allies… there are other allies involved in the procurement of this kit,” said Mr Sunak.

“But where we can in this conflict we have been out in front – and rightly so.”

During his speech in parliament, for which he received a standing ovation, Mr Zelenskyy urged western allies to supply jets, saying: “I appeal to you and the world with simple and yet most important words: Combat aircraft for Ukraine, wings for freedom.”

King Charles meets Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at Buckingham Palace
Image:
King Charles meets Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at Buckingham Palace

Former prime minister Boris Johnson also stepped up his call for the UK to provide more equipment – including jets – to Ukraine.

“We have more than 100 Typhoon jets. We have more than 100 Challenger 2 tanks,” he said.

“The best single use for any of these items is to deploy them now for the protection of the Ukrainians – not least because that is how we guarantee our own long-term security.”

But according to Professor Michael Clarke, a defence and security analyst, the UK “doesn’t have” the right sort of jets to offer.

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Mr Zelenskyy addressed MPs after arriving in London on an unannounced visit earlier this morning, in his second trip outside Ukraine since Russia invaded last February.

After visiting parliament, he travelled to Buckingham Palace for an audience with the King and later visited Lulworth Camp in Dorset with Mr Sunak, to meet Ukrainian troops being trained by the British Army.

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