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Ukraine war latest: Zelensky makes surprise visit to UK, pleads for fighter jets

by Asami Terajima February 8, 2023 10:55 PM 5 min read
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) and Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (C) meet Ukrainian troops being trained to command Challenger 2 tanks at a military facility in Lulworth, Dorset, in southwestern England on Feb. 8, 2023. (Photo by Andrew Matthews/AFP via Getty Images)
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Key developments on Feb. 8:
  • Zelensky visits UK, meets Sunak and King Charles III
  • Sunak: ‘Nothing is off the table’ concerning weapons for Ukraine, including fighter jets
  • Zelensky heads to Paris, Brussels after his London trip
  • Hague prosecutors say Putin approved transfer of missiles that shot down MH17

President Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise visit to the U.K. on Feb. 8, where he repeated calls for fighter jets as he met Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and spoke to British Parliament.

Zelensky thanked the U.K. on behalf of Ukrainian “war heroes” fighting in the trenches.

“London has stood with Kyiv since day one, since the first seconds and minutes of the full-scale war,” Zelensky said in his address to British lawmakers. “Great Britain, you extended your helping hand when the world had not yet come to understand how to react.”

“We know Russia will lose,” the Ukrainian leader continued, wearing his iconic olive-green sweatshirt. “We know victory will change the world, and this will be a change the world needed.”

“The United Kingdom is marching with us towards the most important victory of our lifetime.”

The trip to the U.K. is Zelensky’s second known international trip since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago.

Zelensky’s first wartime trip abroad was to Washington, D.C., where he met U.S. President Joe Biden and delivered an address to Congress on Dec. 21.

The trip comes as Ukrainian troops are braving Russia’s brutal assaults on Donetsk Oblast fronts. His key plea was getting Western fighter jets – the quest for which began almost immediately after the U.K. and other NATO allies vowed hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles for Kyiv in recent weeks.

Though ambiguously, the U.K. signaled that supplying fighter jets to Ukraine is being considered.

Sunak said that “nothing is off the table” when it comes to military support for Ukraine, and Kyiv’s long-sought fighter jets are “part of the conversation.”

Sunak asked U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace to start “investigating what jets we might be able to give — but to be clear, this is a long-term solution,” a Downing Street spokesman said, as cited by Politico.

The defense chief is “actively looking at whether we send jets” to Ukraine, the spokesman added.

The Russian embassy in the U.K. immediately reacted, threatening that there would be “military-political consequences for the European continent and the whole world” if the U.K. decided to supply fighter jets to Ukraine.

Moscow has long threatened Western nations against providing Ukraine with heavy weapons and stepping up their military assistance, saying they would “regret” making such a move.

Editorial: Arming Ukraine won’t escalate war. Reluctance to do so will

UK’s additional military assistance

Welcoming Zelensky at Downing Street, Sunak confirmed that the U.K. would begin training Ukrainian marines and pilots on fighter jets.

Speaking at the parliament, Sunak said that 10,000 Ukrainian troops underwent U.K.-provided training in the last six months, and an additional 20,000 would be trained this year.

Last week, Ukrainian troops arrived in the U.K. to begin training on Challenger 2 main battle tanks, as London pledged in January to send 14 of them.

A Feb. 8 Downing Street statement also said Sunak was willing to provide Ukraine with “longer range capabilities” but did not provide further details.

“This will disrupt Russia’s ability to continually target Ukraine’s civilian and critical national infrastructure and help relieve pressure on Ukraine’s front lines,” the statement said.

On top of Western combat aircraft, including U.K.’s F35 fighter jets, Ukraine has pled for the West to provide longer-range weapons. The U.S. agreed to provide Kyiv with rockets that would enable it to double its strike range, but Ukrainian forces need more of such weapons.

Amid Zelensky’s visit, the U.K. also announced fresh sanctions against Russia for waging war against Ukraine, targeting Moscow’s “war machine.”

London’s latest round of sanctions targets six entities supplying military equipment, such as drones, to Russia, as well as eight individuals who “help maintain wealth and power amongst Kremlin elites,” the statement read.

Zelensky also met with King Charles III at Buckingham Palace and visited Ukrainian troops training in southwest England before traveling to Paris, where he was set to have dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, according to emerging media reports.

On Feb. 9, Zelensky is set to attend a European Union leaders' summit in Brussels.

Lawyers attend the judges' inspection of the reconstruction of the MH17 wreckage, as part of the murder trial ahead of the beginning of a critical stage in Reijen, Netherlands, on May 26, 2021. (Photo by Piroschka van de Wouw - Pool/Getty Images)

MH17 plane crash investigation halts

Prosecutors at the Hague said on Feb. 8 that they held "strong indications" that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off the transfer of the BUK-TELAR missile system to Moscow-controlled proxies in the east of Ukraine that was used to shoot down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 flying over Ukraine in July 2014, according to the Joint Investigation Team. The crash killed all 298 people on board.

Despite the convincing evidence, prosecutors acknowledged that Putin was unlikely to be brought to justice since he enjoys immunity as head of the state. "Although we speak of strong indications, the high bar of complete and conclusive evidence is not reached,” they added.

As “all leads have been exhausted,” the probe into the MH17 would be halted, the prosecutors said.

"The evidence is insufficient for more prosecutions," Dutch prosecutor Digna van Boetzelaer said at a news conference.

Nearly nine years after the Joint Investigation Team was established to investigate the deadly plane crash, the probe was suspended – without being able to prosecute all those allegedly responsible for the incident.

In November 2022, the Hague District Court found Russian combatants Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinsky, and Ukrainian proxy Leonid Kharchenko guilty of shooting down the plane.

The three were part of the Russian-controlled proxy group in the east of Ukraine. The fourth suspect, Russian citizen Oleg Pulatov, was acquitted.

Girkin, Dubinsky, and Kharchenko were sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia and ordered to pay 16 million euros in compensation to the MH17 families.

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