'Wings for freedom': Zelenskyy visits UK, lobbies for fighter jets, and Britain is receptive. Ukraine live updates.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the U.K. on Wednesday for the first time since Russia's invasion, a rare trip out of his war-torn country.
Zelenskyy met U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and addressed Parliament in a bid for more military aid in the form of advanced weapons and "wings for freedom" fighter jets as Ukraine prepares for expected spring offensives by Russian forces.
For the first time, Sunak said he's open to the idea of providing fighter jets. “Nothing is off the table,” he said at a joint news conference at a British army base. “We must arm Ukraine in the short term, but we must bolster Ukraine for the long term.”
It is Zelenskyy's second known trip outside Ukraine since Russia's invasion nearly a year ago, after his December visit to the U.S.
On Wednesday night, Zelenskyy arrived in Paris to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Zelenskyy will also visit Brussels, where leaders from the 27-nation bloc are holding a summit Thursday, Macron's office confirmed.
►Zelensky visited Buckingham Palace and met with King Charles. The royal family posted a photo of the men shaking hands on Twitter.
►French President Emmanuel Macron was to meet with Zelenskyy and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Paris later Wednesday, the Élysée Palace said. Zelenskyy also is expected to visit Brussels, where leaders from the 27-nation bloc are holding a summit Thursday, but no announcement had been made.
►British Foreign Minister James Cleverly announced new sanctions against Russian President Vladimir "Putin’s inner circle and producers of Russia's warfare equipment," adding that, "Putin is desperate. He will not succeed."
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UK moves closer to providing Ukraine with fighter jets
Zelenskyy, wearing his trademark olive sweatshirt, presented the speaker of the House of Commons with a Ukrainian air force helmet inscribed by a Ukrainian pilot: “We have freedom. Give us wings to protect it.”
The U.S., U.K and other allies have been reluctant to provide advanced fighter jets, citing the complexity of the aircraft and concerns over escalating the war. But in a shift, the British government said Wednesday that it was “actively looking” at whether Ukraine could be sent Western jets and was “in discussion with our allies” about it.
Sunak’s spokesman, Max Blain, said the government was exploring what jets might be provided over the coming years but had not made a decision on whether to send its F-35 or Typhoon jets.
“We think it is right to provide both short-term equipment … that can help win the war now but also look to the medium-to-long term to make sure Ukraine has every possibility it requires,” he said.
Zelenskyy addresses UK Parliament, asks for jets
Zelenskyy asked allies to send "combat aircraft for Ukraine, wings for freedom" as hundreds of lawmakers and staff packed into Westminster Hall for his address.
Zelenskyy also urged stronger sanctions against Russia and thanked Britain for its aid.
"London has stood with Kyiv since Day One," he said, handing over a combat helmet as a thank-you to Britain. The helmet was inscribed by a Ukrainian pilot with the words, “We have freedom. Give us wings to protect it.”
UK announces pilot, marine training program for Ukraine
Zelenskyy's visit coincides with Sunak announcing that Britain will expand training for Ukrainian fighter jet pilots and marines "as part of long-term investment in their military," according to a statement from the prime minister's office.
Britain pledged to train Ukrainian pilots on "NATO standard fight jets," but the U.K. has been reluctant to meet Ukraine's request for allies to send warplanes.
"I am proud that today we will expand that training from soldiers to marines and fighter jet pilots, ensuring Ukraine has a military able to defend its interests well into the future," Sunak said in a statement. "It also underlines our commitment to not just provide military equipment for the short term, but a long-term pledge to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine for years to come."
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The U.K. is one of Ukraine's biggest military supporters and has sent the country more than $2.5 billion in aid. More than 10,000 Ukrainian troops have trained at U.K. bases, and Britain said 20,000 more will do so this year. Last week, a group of Ukrainians arrived in the U.K. to learn to operate Challenger 2 tanks Britain is supplying.
The U.K. also announced a series of sanctions Wednesday against six entities it said provided equipment to the Russian military.
Welcome to the UK, President @ZelenskyyUa.
🇬🇧🇺🇦 #SlavaUkraini pic.twitter.com/rMoBTC3ken
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) February 8, 2023
Zelenskyy keeps busy itinerary in UK
Zelenskyy arrived at London Stansted airport on a Royal Air Force plane as Sunak greeted him. Sunak tweeted a photo of the two embracing on the tarmac.
"The United Kingdom was one of the first to come to Ukraine’s aid. And today I’m in London to personally thank the British people for their support," Zelenskyy said on Instagram.
Zelenskyy and Sunak traveled to Downing Street amid a large convoy of vehicles before briefly posing for photos in front of the famous black door that leads into the U.K. prime minister's residence.
Zelenskyy started the meeting by thanking Britain for its "big support from the first days of full-scale invasion." He also met with King Charles, U.K. military chiefs and Ukrainian troops training in Britain.
IOC resists pressure to ban Russian, Belarusian athletes from Paris Games
As the push against allowing athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete in next year's Summer Games in Paris gains support, the International Olympic Committee continues to resist.
On Wednesday, Olympic leaders said they don't intend to have Russian and Belarusian delegations at the event. Instead, the IOC plans for those countries' qualifying competitors who have not actively supported the war in Ukraine to participate as “neutral athletes” without a national identity such as team uniforms, flags and anthems.
Zelenskyy and many political and sports figures have advocated for extending to the Paris Games the ban initially applied in most Olympic sports to participants from Russia and Belarus, imposed shortly after the war began last February.
“It is not possible to parade as if nothing had happened, to have a delegation that comes to Paris while the bombs continue to rain down on Ukraine,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said Tuesday, drawing the IOC response.
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Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine updates: Zelenskyy visits UK, first time since Russia invasion