The UK will offer fighter jet training to Ukraine as Western allies debate how much military aid to give Kyiv amid warnings of an impending Russian offensive in the east.
The news comes on the back of Volodymyr Zelensky’s announcement to visit the UK on Wednesday, in the Ukrainian leader’s second overseas trip since Russian troops invaded his country nearly a year ago.
Downing Street said Zelensky would meet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and address parliament, announcing that the UK was planning “to train fighter jet pilots and marines” from the Ukrainian armed forces.
“The prime minister will offer to bolster the UK’s training offer for Ukrainian troops, including expanding it to fighter jet pilots to ensure Ukraine can defend its skies well into the future,” Sunak’s office said.
The training would “ensure pilots are able to fly sophisticated NATO-standard fighter jets in the future”, it added.
Sunak will also “offer to begin an immediate training programme for marines”, it added.
In December, Zelensky flew to the United States on his first foreign trip since Russia’s invasion, where he appealed for long-term US support in Congress and held talks at the White House with President Joe Biden.
He subsequently stopped in Poland on his return home for talks with Polish President Andrzej Duda.
Zelensky has been pressing his Western allies for heavy tanks amid warnings that Russia is building up men and tanks for another major offensive in the east.
Moscow said Tuesday that Russian forces were advancing towards Bakhmut and Vugledar — two key centers of fighting in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine, now the flashpoint of the war.
Close combat in the streets of Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast, eastern Ukraine
Russian invaders are pushing from several directions simultaneously. Heavy fighting is underway on the eastern and southern outskirts of the city. Bakhmut holds.
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) February 8, 2023
‘Months if Not Years’
On Tuesday, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands promised that Ukraine would get at least 100 tanks in the “coming months,” as the German defense minister visited Kyiv.
The German, Dutch, and Danish government also said training and support would be sent for the Leopard 1 tanks, ahead of the delivery of more advanced tanks in the future.
Downing Street said Sunak and Zelensky would “discuss a two-pronged approach to UK support for Ukraine, starting with an immediate surge of military equipment to the country to help counter Russia’s spring offensive, and reinforced by long-term support.”
Last week, Sunak said sending the UK’s Typhoon and F-35 fighter jets to Kyiv would require “months if not years” of training and that he was looking for the most effective way of helping Kyiv secure victory.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has also warned that supplying fighter jets to Ukraine would not be a “magic wand” in the war, although he refused to rule anything in or out.
The United States has so far ruled out any deliveries of F-16 warplanes to Ukraine, but other partners including Poland have shown themselves more open to the idea.
Britain says it has already trained 10,000 Ukrainian troops “to battle readiness” over the past six months and would train a further 20,000 this year.
The UK has already agreed to send 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. Germany recently gave the green light for Leopard battle tanks to be sent but while Berlin has now moved, other nations that previously committed to sending the tanks now appear to be stalling.
Zelensky last week urged Western countries to speed up deliveries of weapons — particularly long-range missiles — so his forces can fend off Russian advances in the Donetsk region.