London. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in Britain on Wednesday for only his second overseas trip since Russia’s invasion began nearly a year ago.
After receiving a hero’s welcome in Washington in December, Zelensky was due to be feted in a speech to the UK parliament alongside meetings with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and King Charles III.
Zelensky, dressed in his trademark olive-green top, was hugged by Sunak after disembarking from a military transport plane at Stansted airport north of London.
The UK government said it would offer advanced training for Ukrainian fighter jet pilots and marines, as Western allies debate stepping up military aid for Kyiv against a feared Russian offensive in the east.
After London, EU officials hope Zelensky will visit Brussels on Thursday, in the buildup to the one-year anniversary on February 24.
Ahead of the trip, President Joe Biden promised that the United States would support Ukraine for the long haul.
“We’re going to stand with you, as long as it takes,” Biden said in the president’s annual State of the Union speech.
“Our nation is working for more freedom, more dignity, more peace — not just in Europe, but everywhere,” Biden said, addressing Ukraine’s ambassador to Washington, Oksana Markarova, who was in attendance.
NATO fighter jets
After talks at 10 Downing Street and his speech in parliament’s historic Westminster Hall, Zelensky was due to join Sunak on a visit to Ukrainian troops receiving training by the British military in southwest England.
“The prime minister will offer to bolster the UK’s training offer for Ukrainian troops, including expanding it to fighter jet pilots to ensure Ukraine can defend its skies well into the future,” Sunak’s office said.
The training would “ensure pilots are able to fly sophisticated NATO-standard fighter jets in the future”, it added, although Western countries have so far ruled out sending jets themselves.
Zelensky has won promises instead from allies for heavy tanks, amid warnings that Russia is building up men and materiel for another major offensive in the east.
Moscow said Tuesday that Russian forces were advancing towards Bakhmut and Vugledar — two key centres of fighting in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine, now the flashpoint of the war.
On Tuesday, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands promised that Ukraine would get at least 100 tanks in the “coming months”, as the German defence minister visited Kyiv.
The three European governments also said training and support would be sent for the Leopard 1 tanks, ahead of the delivery of more advanced tanks in the future.
‘Months if not years’
Last week, Sunak said sending the UK’s Typhoon and F-35 fighter jets to Kyiv would require “months if not years” of training and that he was looking for the most effective way of helping Kyiv secure victory.
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has also warned that supplying fighter jets to Ukraine would not be a “magic wand” in the war, although he refused to rule out the idea.
The United States has so far rejected any deliveries of F-16 warplanes to Ukraine, but other partners including Poland have shown themselves more open to the idea.
Zelensky stopped off in Poland on his way home from Washington in December.
Britain says it has already trained 10,000 Ukrainian troops “to battle readiness” over the past six months and will train a further 20,000 this year.
The UK has already agreed to send 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Germany recently gave the green light for Leopard battle tanks to be sent by allies but while Berlin has now moved, other nations that previously committed to sending the tanks now appear to be stalling.
Zelensky last week urged Western countries to speed up deliveries of weapons — particularly long-range missiles — so his forces can fend off Russian advances in the Donetsk region.