UK to train Ukrainian pilots as ‘first step’ to sending fighter jets – POLITICO

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WAREHAM, Dorset – Ukrainian fighter pilots will soon be trained in Britain – but Kyiv will have to wait a bit longer for the modern fighter jets it needs.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy left the UK on Wednesday with a firm British commitment to train fighter pilots on NATO-standard planes, along with an offer of longer-range missiles.

UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has now been tasked with investigating jets the UK may be able to supply to Ukraine, Downing Street has announced – but Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has not made no real promises about their supply, which his spokesperson said would never be a “long-term” option.

Speaking at a joint press conference at Lulworth military camp in Wareham, southern England, Sunak said the priority must be “to arm Ukraine in the short term” to ensure the country is not vulnerable to a new wave of Russian attacks this spring.

Standing alongside Zelenskyy in front of a British-made Challenger 2 tank, Sunak reaffirmed that “nothing is out of order” when it comes to providing military assistance to Ukraine, and said the planes of fourth generation combat were part of his conversation with the Ukrainian. president “today, and have been before”.

These discussions also focused on the supply chains needed to support these sophisticated aircraft, Sunak said.

But he warned that a decision to deliver jets would only be made in coalition with allies, and said pilot training had to come first and could take “some time”.

“That’s why we announced today that we will train the Ukrainian Air Force on NATO-compliant platforms, because the first step in being able to provide advanced aircraft is to have soldiers or airmen capable of using them,” Sunak said. “We have to make sure they are able to operate the aircraft that they could possibly use.”

The first Challenger 2 tanks promised by Britain will arrive in Ukraine next month, Sunak added.

President Zelenskyy stepped up the pressure on Rishi Sunak, joking that he had left Parliament two years earlier grateful for ‘delicious English tea’, but this time he would ‘thank you all in advance for powerful English planes’ | Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images

Describing his private conversations with Sunak as “fruitful”, Zelenskyy said he was “very grateful” that Britain had finally heard Kyiv’s call for longer-range missiles.

But he warned that without fighter jets there is a risk of “stagnation” in his country’s battle against Russian occupation.

“Without the weapons that we’re discussing now, and the weapons that we just discussed with Rishi earlier today, and how Britain is going to help us, you know, that’s all very important,” he said. declared. “Without it, there would be stagnation, which won’t do any good.”

Roll out the red carpet

The UK had rolled out the red carpet for Zelenskyy’s surprise one-day visit, which alongside the visit to the military base included talks with Sunak in Downing Street, a meeting with King Charles at Buckingham Palace and a historic speech to the British parliament at Westminster. .

Only a handful of leaders have delivered such a speech at Westminster Hall over the past 30 years, including Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama.

“We have freedom. Give us wings to protect it,” Zelenskyy told British lawmakers, after symbolically handing House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle a helmet used by one of the Ukrainian fighter pilots. The message written on it read: “Fighters for Ukraine, wings for freedom.

Zelenskyy’s call was backed by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who urged Sunak to meet his request.

“We have over 100 Typhoon jets. We have over 100 Challenger 2 tanks,” he said. “The single best use of any of these items is to deploy them now for the protection of Ukrainians, not least because that’s how we ensure our own long-term security.”

Western defense ministers will meet to discuss new military aid to Ukraine on February 14, during a meeting at the US base in Ramstein in southwestern Germany.

Sunak’s spokesman said that although Britain has not made a decision on whether to send its own planes, “there is an ongoing discussion between other countries about their own combat aircraft, some of which are closer to what Ukrainian pilots are used to”.

training day

Britain’s announcement marks the first public statement by a European country on the training of Ukrainian pilots and could inspire other European nations to follow suit. France is already considering a similar request from Kyiv.

Yuriyy Sak, adviser to Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, welcomed the UK’s decision and said the allies “know very well that to defeat Russia in 2023, Ukraine needs all types of weapons”, with the exception of nuclear.

“A few weeks ago the UK showed leadership on the issue of supplying tanks to Ukraine and then other allies followed suit,” he said. “Now the UK is once again showing leadership in pilot training. Hopefully other countries will follow.

The UK program is set to run alongside a US program to train Ukrainian pilots to fly US fighters, for which the US House of Representatives approved $100 million last summer. In October, Ukraine announced that a group of several dozen pilots had been selected to train on Western fighter jets.

The first Ukrainian pilots are expected to arrive in Britain in the spring, with Downing Street warning that the instruction program could last up to five years. Military analysts, however, say the length of such a program could vary widely depending on the pilots’ prior expertise and the type of fighter they are learning to fly.

The UK announcement is therefore of “significant value” but “does not suggest that the supply of fighter jets is imminent”, said Justin Bronk, senior air power researcher at UK think tank RUSI.

The UK program will likely involve simulators and focus on providing training in NATO tactics and basic piloting procedures to Ukrainian pilots who already have expertise flying NATO jets. Soviet era, Bronk said.

The new training programs come on top of an increase in the number of first Ukrainian recruits trained in basic tactics in the UK, from 10,000 to 20,000 troops this year.

“Unimaginable difficulties”

Wednesday’s visit marked Zelenskyy’s first trip to the UK since the invasion of Russia nearly a year ago and only his second confirmed trip outside Ukraine during the war, following a visit to the United States. United last December.

Ukraine’s president arrived on a Royal Air Force plane at an airport north of London on Wednesday morning, with the entire trip a closely guarded secret until he landed.

Recounting his first visit to London in 2020, when seated in the chair of British warlord Winston Churchill, Zelenskyy said: ‘I certainly felt something – but only now do I know what was the feeling. It’s a feeling of how bravery takes you through the most unimaginable trials to ultimately reward you with victory.

Zelenskyy traveled to Paris on Wednesday evening for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. In a brief statement, Zelenskyy said France and Germany “can be a game-changer”, adding: “The sooner we have heavy weapons, long-range missiles, planes, alongside tanks, the sooner the war will end”.

Macron said that Ukraine “can count on France and Europe to [help] win the war,” while Scholz added that Zelenskyy expected attendance at a summit of European leaders in Brussels on Thursday “to be a sign of solidarity.”

Dan Bloom and Clea Caulcutt provided additional information.


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