Brits could be first to provide fighter jets to Ukraine, vows to train Ukrainian pilots

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, left, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a press conference at a military facility, in Lulworth, Dorset, England, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023. (Andrew Matthews/Pool via AP)
By Thomas Brooke
3 Min Read

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted “nothing is off the table” after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s impassioned plea for fighter jets during his speech to the U.K. parliament on Wednesday.

The Ukrainian leader used his appearance in Westminster to push for the transfer of fighter jets to the Ukrainian air force, a move that had previously been resisted by Western allies including the U.S., the U.K., and France.

Zelensky presented House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle with the helmet of a Ukrainian fighter pilot, within which was inscribed, “We have freedom. Give us wings to protect it.”

“I appeal to you and the world with (these) simple and yet most important words: combat aircraft for Ukraine. Wings for freedom,” Zelensky told MPs and peers during his address in Westminster Hall.

The notion, however, had already been announced by Downing Street earlier on Wednesday morning, when it was revealed the RAF would begin training Ukrainian pilots to fly NATO-standard fighter jets, including the U.S.-built F-16 aircraft and Britain’s Eurofighter Typhoon.

The Ukrainian president’s speech was hailed by former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson who called for the Conservative government to give Ukraine what it needs to win the war.

“We have more than 100 Typhoon jets. We have more than 100 Challenger 2 tanks.

“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,” Johnson told reporters after the special appearance.

In a press conference later on Wednesday, U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refused to rule out sending fighter jets to the war-torn region.

“Of course, we have been discussing fighter combat aircraft today,” he told reporters. “Nothing is off the table,” he added.

Zelensky also visited French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin on Wednesday, as he toured Europe to garner further support for his country in its attempt to repel the Russian invasion.

Macron told reporters his country would “continue the efforts” to support Kyiv with military and economic aid, while Scholz declared Ukraine a part of the “European family” and insisted, “We will continue to (support Ukraine) as long as necessary.”

Neither leader ruled out the transfer of fighter jets, a hint that NATO perhaps may be willing to ramp up its support for Ukraine and face down Russian threats of escalation.

The Russian embassy in London on Wednesday warned the British government that any decision to provide aircraft to Kyiv would have “military and political consequences for the European continent and the entire world.”

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