The UK Appears to Soften to Zelensky's Big Ask

The Ukrainian president wants fighter jets
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 8, 2023 4:03 PM CST
Zelensky Shows Up in the UK With a Big Ask
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, right, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meet Ukrainian troops being trained to command Challenger 2 tanks at a military facility in Lulworth, Dorset, England, Wednesday Feb. 8, 2023.   (Andrew Matthews/Pool via AP)

Volodymyr Zelensky's latest surprise visit took him to the UK on Wednesday, where he spoke before Parliament and met with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. One of the top headlines emerging: the Ukrainian president's push for fighter jets. BBC defense correspondent Jonathan Beale sees a shift underway. He writes that the day began with the UK agreeing to begin training Ukrainian troops to fly jets, but after Zelensky's "impassioned plea" for the jets themselves came a softening: Sunak ordered his defense secretary to look at ways in which the UK could potentially make that happen.

"Nothing is off the table," Sunak said, noting fighter jets were "part of the conversation" regarding aid. "We must arm Ukraine in the short term, but we must bolster Ukraine for the long term." Time notes that even the pledge to provide training "marks a striking shift from the British government’s position only a week ago, when a government spokesperson described sending jets as impractical on the grounds that the UK’s fighter jets are 'extremely sophisticated and take months to learn how to fly.'"

The AP flags what it calls a "pointed and dramatic gesture" made by Zelensky during his speech in Westminster Hall: He presented the speaker of the House of Commons with a Ukrainian air force helmet that had been inscribed by one of the country's top pilots: "We have freedom. Give us wings to protect it." It marks Zelensky's third foreign trip since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, coming after a December trip to Washington, DC; he visited Poland the following day. Zelensky will next meet with German chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris Wednesday night. (More Volodymyr Zelensky stories.)

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