Volodymyr Zelensky hailed Britain’s ‘big support’ for Ukraine today as he held talks with Rishi Sunak in Downing Street.
The Ukrainian President said he was ‘honoured’ as he met the PM in Downing Street – where he is thought to have again made the case for more weaponry to face down Vladimir Putin.
The pair shared a warm embrace earlier as Mr Zelensky landed at Stansted Airport in Essex for his surprise visit.
They then returned to London for talks, with Mr Sunak pledging to boost support with training for fighter pilots – a precursor to supplying advance Nato jets. More sanctions have also been imposed on Russia in a bid to cripple Putin’s war-fighting machine.
Mr Zelensky will address a both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall shortly, after MPs put on a show of unity at PMQs promising to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine. He has spoken to Westminster before, but only via video link.
Speaking in No10, Mr Zelensky thanked the British people ‘for your big support from the first days of full-scale invasion’.
‘Thank you so much Rishi for inviting me and for me great honour to be here in Britain,’ he added.
The Ukrainian President was greeted with applause as he walked into No10 over a red carpet laid out in Downing Street.
Mr Zelensky is due to address the Houses of Parliament and hold an audience with King Charles at Buckingham Palace.
He will also use his surprise visit to meet with some of his Ukrainian troops being trained in Britain.
Mr Sunak today pledged extra military support for Ukraine, including – crucially – the training of Ukrainian fighter jet pilots.
This could pave the way for Ukrainian forces to fly sophisticated Nato-standard jets, a key request by Mr Zelensky.
Britain also announced a new round of sanctions on the Russian military and Kremlin elites this morning, in a bid to further tighten the economic squeeze on Vladimir Putin’s regime.
After speaking with Mr Zelensky in Downing Street, Mr Sunak travelled to the House of Commons where he told MPs he was ‘delighted’ the Ukrainian President had been able to travel to Britain.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, he said: ‘It is a testament to the unbreakable friendship between our two countries.
‘I am proud that we are expanding the training for Ukrainian forces to include jet pilots and marines, and ensure that Ukraine has a military able to defend its interests today and in to the future.’
The PM added both the country and the Commons can be ‘proud that we came together to stand by Ukraine when the moment mattered’.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told MPs that Mr Zelensky has ‘symbolised the heroism, the resolve, and the bravery of his people’ since Russia’s invasion.
ome 10,000 Ukrainian recruits have been trained in the UK in the past six months.
The first troops arrived in Britain last week to learn how to command Challenger 2 tanks, following the PM’s decision to provide the kit.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly this morning unveiled a new package of sanctions aimed at six companies providing military equipment for Russia’s continued bombardment of Ukraine.
This included the manufacturer of drones being used to destroy Ukrainian combat vehicles, a company making parts for Russian helicopters, and a software firm involved in military aviation.
Sanctions were also slapped on a group linked to Mr Putin through opaque financial networks.
This included five individuals connected to the Russian President’s luxury residents, including the 100 billion rouble ‘Putin’s Palace’ and his lakeside Dacha.
Mr Cleverly said: ‘Ukraine has shown Putin that it will not break under his tyrannical invasion.
‘He has responded by indiscriminately striking civilian areas and critical national infrastructure across the country.
‘We cannot let him succeed. We must increase our support.
‘These new sanctions accelerate the economic pressure on Putin – undermining his war machine to help Ukraine prevail.
‘I am determined, consistent with our laws, that Russia will have no access to the assets we have frozen until it ends, once and for all, its threats to Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and integrity.’
Ukrainian pilots are to be trained by the UK to fly sophisticated Nato fighter planes in the latest show of support for Mr Zelensky’s forces.
The UK will also offer an intermediate training programme for Ukrainian marines and has promised an ‘immediate surge’ of military equipment including longer-range weapons.
Downing Street said the Government is following a ‘two-pronged’ approach, with more military kit now to counter a spring offensive by Russia, with long-term support for the future.
Although Ukraine is desperate for fighter jets immediately to counter the Russian air force, the length of the required training means that No 10 has said the pilot programme is a ‘long-term capability investment’.
The training will ensure pilots are able to fly sophisticated Nato-standard fighter jets in the future.
While the UK operates F-35 and Typhoon jets, the older F-16s widely operated by other Nato countries are more likely to be supplied to Ukraine, should Western leaders agree to Mr Zelensky’s requests.