Ukraine's Zelenskiy, in Britain, wins pledge of long-range drones

AFP

Britain greeted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Monday with a promise of long-range attack drones on top of cruise missiles pledged last week, as the Ukrainian leader tours Europe winning new arms for a counteroffensive against Russia.

Zelenskiy met Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the British leader's Chequers country residence, the first foreign leader Sunak has hosted there since taking office in October.

Earlier Zelenskiy, who arrived from visits to Rome, Berlin and Paris, wrote on Twitter: "Today – London. The UK is a leader when it comes to expanding our capabilities on the ground and in the air. This cooperation will continue today."

Sunak's office said he would confirm the provision of hundreds of air defence missiles and further unmanned aerial systems, including hundreds of new long-range attack drones with a range of over 200 kilometres.

"This is a crucial moment in Ukraine's resistance to a terrible war," Sunak said in a statement.

"They need the sustained support of the international community to defend against the barrage of unrelenting and indiscriminate attacks that have been their daily reality for over a year."

Britain also announced it would begin basic training of Ukrainian pilots this summer, "hand in hand with UK efforts to work with other countries on providing F16 jets – Ukraine’s fighter jets of choice".

After keeping its troops on the defensive for six months, Ukraine is planning to launch major assaults to reclaim territory using newly acquired weapons from the West. It has already achieved its biggest gains since last November in fighting around the city of Bakhmut since last week.

Zelenskiy, making his European tour ahead of the planned counteroffensive, won major additional pledges of tanks, armoured vehicles and other weapons over the past two days from Germany and France.

Britain has frequently been the first country to offer Ukraine new capabilities, often followed by similar offers from other allies. It was the first to offer battle tanks in January.

Last week, London announced it was sending Ukraine its air-launched Storm Shadow cruise missiles, with a far longer range than Western weapons sent previously, breaking a taboo against arms that can strike deep behind Russian lines.

After the United States, Britain has been one of the largest suppliers of military aid to Ukraine, contributing 2.3 billion pounds ($2.9 billion) worth of support last year and pledging a similar amount for 2023.

The Ukrainian president also on Monday issued a new appeal for NATO membership, calling for a political decision at the Western alliance's summit in July in Vilnius.

"It is time to remove the biggest security uncertainty in Europe — that is, to approve a positive political decision on (Ukrainian) membership in NATO," he said in a video address to the Copenhagen Democracy Summit. "This is worth doing at the July summit already. This will be a timely signal."

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