UK pledges attack drones, more missiles as Ukraine’s Zelenskyy meets prime minister on European tour

May 15, 2023, 12:00 AM | Updated: 1:22 pm

Britain's Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, right, greets Ukraine's President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, afte...

Britain's Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, right, greets Ukraine's President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, after his arrival at Chequers, in Aylesbury, England, Monday, May 15, 2023. Zelenskyy was in Britain Monday on his whirlwind European tour, as the staunch ally of Kyiv promised to give Ukraine hundreds more missiles and attack drones in an effort to change the course of the war. (Carl Court/Pool via AP)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Carl Court/Pool via AP)

LONDON (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pressed the British government at the end of a whirlwind European tour Monday to join a “fighter jet coalition” that would help strengthen his country’s aerial capabilities, but instead secured a commitment for attack drones and hundreds more missiles.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak greeted Zelenskyy with a handshake and hug after the president’s helicopter landed at Chequers, the British leader’s official country retreat. It was Zelenskyy’s second trip to the U.K. since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, but the fifth European country he visited in three days..

He is seeking more military aid as Ukraine prepares a long-anticipated spring offensive to retake Russian-occupied territory. The Ukrainian leader also visited Italy, France.

Russia reacted to the U.K.’s new pledge “extremely negatively,” but also doubts the missiles and drones would drastically change the course of the war, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday.

“Britain aspires to be at the forefront among countries that continue to pump weapons into Ukraine,” Peskov said. “We repeat once again: It cannot yield any drastic and fundamental influence on the way the special military operation (in Ukraine) is unfolding. But, definitely, it leads to further destruction. … It makes this whole story for Ukraine much more complicated.”

Zelenskyy said one of the missions of his European travels that started Saturday was to build a “fighter jet coalition” to provide Ukraine with vital military power in the air. He said more work was needed on that front.

While the U.K. will not provide the planes, the prime minister said the country would join the coalition and begin a previously announced training program for Ukrainian fighter pilots as soon as this summer.

The U.K., one of Ukraine’s major military allies, has provided short-range missiles, Challenger tanks and training 15,000 Ukrainian troops on British soil. Last week, the government announced it had sent Ukraine Storm Shadow cruise missiles, which have a range of more than 250 kilometers (150 miles). The British missiles were the first known shipment of longer-range weaponry that Kyiv has long sought from its allies.

Sunak’s office said it was giving Ukraine hundreds more air defense missiles, as well as “long-range attack drones” with a reach of more than 200 kilometers (120 miles).

“This is a crucial moment in Ukraine’s resistance to a terrible war of aggression they did not choose or provoke,” Sunak said. “They need the sustained support of the international community to defend against the barrage of unrelenting and indiscriminate attacks that have been their daily reality for over a year.

“We must not let them down,” the prime minister added.

Sunak plans to push allies at a meeting of Group of Seven leaders in Japan later this week to deliver more support to Ukraine, Downing Street said.

As Zelenskyy visited European capitals, Russia stepped up attacks across Ukraine with drones and missiles. Russia shelled two communities Sunday in the northern border province of Sumy, regional officials said on Telegram. They said 109 explosions were recorded.

Zelenskyy’s office said Monday that Russian attacks had killed nine civilians and injured 19 in the past day. Six of the deaths were in southern Ukraine’s Kherson province. Two civilians were killed in Chuhuiv in Kharkiv province, and one in Prymorsk, on the Azov Sea coast about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from Russian-occupied Berdyansk.

The presidential office also reported that Marhanets, which lies across the river from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, was shelled.

Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti reported that an acting regional interior minister appointed by Moscow, Igor Kornet, was injured in an explosion at a barbershop in the Russian-occupied city of Luhansk. The leader of the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic, a separatist-held region of Ukraine that Moscow illegally annexed, was quoted as saying a bomb caused the explosion.

Assassination attempts and sabotage attacks have increased in Russian-occupied territory as well as Russia proper. Russian authorities often blame Ukrainian forces, but Kyiv rarely acknowledges such attacks.

Zelenskyy traveled to Britain from Paris, where he met Sunday with French President Emmanuel Macron and secured a pledge of light tanks, armored vehicles and air defense systems.

About 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers would receive training in France this year and nearly 4,000 others in Poland, Macron’s office said.

Speaking Monday on French television network TF1, Macron said training on French fighter jets such as the Mirage 2000 “can start now” but rejected the idea of France delivering warplanes to Ukraine.

Zelenskyy also met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Sunday. It was his first visit to Berlin since the start of the invasion and came a day after the German government announced military aid for Ukraine worth more than 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion).

Modern Western hardware is considered crucial if Ukraine is to succeed in its planned counteroffensive. During his European trip, Zelenskyy said Ukraine would aim to liberate Russian-occupied areas within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders and would not attack Russian territory.

Among areas Russia still occupies are the Crimean Peninsula and parts of eastern Ukraine with mainly Russian-speaking populations.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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UK pledges attack drones, more missiles as Ukraine’s Zelenskyy meets prime minister on European tour