LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Wednesday “nothing is off the table” in terms of military aid for Ukraine, as President Volodymyr Zelensky stepped up his demands for Western help ahead of talks with EU leaders.

Fighter jets for Ukraine were “part of the conversation”, Sunak told a joint news conference with Zelensky, who confirmed he would be joining an EU summit on Thursday and appealed also for long-range missiles.

Russia said that it would respond if Britain sends warplanes to Ukraine, warning of an escalation. “Russia will find a response to any unfriendly steps taken by the British side,” Moscow’s embassy in London said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.

Germany’s Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said he believed Berlin would be able to send a first battalion of Leopard 2 tanks to war-torn Ukraine by April. “I think we could deliver at least one battalion in the first four months of this year. Three months maybe. And then we have to proceed as fast as possible of course,” he told reporters while on a visit to Warsaw.

Zelensky used a historic visit to London on Wednesday to urge allies to send combat aircraft to Ukraine and deliver “wings for freedom”. Britain said it would consider the proposal in the “long term”, although the US and other Nato allies remain wary of getting more embroiled in Ukraine’s war with Russia. Britain has offered to train Ukrainian fighter pilots on top of an existing programme that has already prepared 10,000 troops for battle.

Dressed in his usual green fatigues, Zelensky received waves of applause as he made a historic address to both the lower and upper houses of the British parliament, on what is only his second overseas trip since the war began.

A statement from Sunak’s office earlier said the new UK training will “ensure pilots are able to fly sophisticated NATO-standard fighter jets in the future”.

In London, Zelensky also met King Charles III — still dressed in an olive-green sweatshirt — and thanked him for his support of Ukrainian refugees. He then visited Ukrainian troops receiving military training in Dorset, southwest England, presenting several with service medals.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2023

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