Drones and missile defence on the table for Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskyy in UK

Rishi Sunak and visiting leader look set to agree on forming jets coalition

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, right, meets Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at Chequers. PA
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The UK has agreed to give Ukraine long-range attack drones, it was announced on Monday, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Britain in the latest leg of a European trip to seek more military aid.

The main outcome of the talks was UK confirmation it was giving Ukraine hundreds more air defence missiles, as well as “long-range attack drones” with a range of more than 200km.

The announcement came less than a week after the UK government agreed to authorise the donation of long-range Storm Shadow cruise missiles amid continued Russian attacks.

The announcement was made hours after Mr Zelenskyy landed by helicopter at Chequers, the British Prime Minister's official country retreat, where he was greeted by Rishi Sunak.

Asked about the provision of fighter jets, which Mr Zelenskyy has repeatedly called for, the Ukrainian President said it was a “very important topic” because Ukraine cannot control the sky.

“We want to create a jets coalition,” he told a press conference. “But we have to work a little bit more on it.”

Mr Sunak said building up combat aircraft capability was “not a straightforward thing”.

“It’s not just the provision of planes, it’s also the training of pilots and all the logistics to go alongside that,” he said.

“The UK can play a big part of that. One thing we will be doing, starting relatively soon, is training Ukrainian pilots. That’s something that we discussed today. And we are ready to implement those plans in relatively short order.”

The UK has become one of Ukraine's major military allies, sending Kyiv short-range missiles and Challenger tanks and training 15,000 Ukrainian troops on British soil.

“This is a crucial moment in Ukraine’s resistance to a terrible war of aggression they did not choose or provoke,” Mr Sunak said.

“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.

“We must not let them down.”

The two men and their close aides held discussions in the Hawtrey Room, where Winston Churchill wrote his famous radio speeches during the Second World War.

The visit comes a day after Mr Zelenskyy visited Paris, where he met French President Emmanuel Macron who reaffirmed the unwavering support of France and Europe for the restoration of Ukraine's legitimate rights and the defence of its “fundamental interests”.

On Saturday, Mr Zelenskyy met German Chancellor Olaf Scholz who unveiled a new military package for Kyiv worth €2.7 billion ($3 billion), its biggest yet for Ukraine.

The move was hailed by the Ukrainian leader as a “powerful support”.

Mr Zelenskyy's visit to the UK comes days after Liverpool hosted Eurovision on behalf of Ukraine.

The latest decision was welcomed by Mr Zelenskyy, who called it a “significant enhancement” of Ukraine's efforts in the war.

On Monday, Ukrainian troops advanced in areas near the frontline town of Bakhmut, the scene of the longest and fiercest fighting since Russia's invasion began.

“The advance of our troops in the Bakhmut direction is the first success of the offensive in the course of the operation to defend Bakhmut,” said Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukraine's ground forces.

Bakhmut, which had a population of about 70,000 before the war, was Russia's main target in a winter offensive that yielded scant gains, despite infantry ground combat of an intensity not seen in Europe since the Second World War.

Ukraine, which is preparing for its own counteroffensive, had appeared likely to abandon Bakhmut at the end of February, but announced in March it would fight on there, saying Russia was suffering a higher number of casualties in its attempt to storm the city.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of Russia's Wagner Group, has said his forces would leave the ruined city because they did not have enough ammunition and were likely to die needlessly.

Mr Prigozhin allegedly offered to reveal the position of Russian troops to the Ukrainian government, The Washington Post reported on Sunday, citing leaked US intelligence documents.

Ukraine rejected the offer, according to the report.

At the weekend, Mr Prigozhin suggested up to four Russian military aircraft that crashed near Ukraine may have been shot down by Moscow's own forces.

Russian news agency Tass reported a Su-34 and one helicopter crashed in the Bryansk region on Saturday, while other sources said four military aircraft were downed.

“Four planes — if you draw a circle in the places of their fall, it turns out that this circle has a diameter (and all of them lie exactly in a circle) of 40km. Now go on the internet and see what kind of air defence weapon could be in the centre of this circle, and then build your own versions,” Mr Prigozhin wrote on Telegram.

Updated: May 16, 2023, 9:36 AM