Ukraine's Zelenskyy calls for 'jet coalition' as Sunak pledges hundreds of new attack drones

15 May 2023, 07:18 | Updated: 15 May 2023, 12:06

Rishi Sunak meets Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Rishi Sunak meets Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Picture: Downing Street/Twitter
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Rishi Sunak has said the UK will be able to train Ukrainian pilots to use Western fighter jets "relatively soon" as Volodymyr Zelenskyy reiterated calls for a "jet coalition".

Mr Sunak said the provision of warplanes was "not straightforward" but said Britain will play an integral role in a coalition of countries providing that support to Ukraine.

Speaking after his talk with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at Chequers, Mr Sunak said: "We are going to be a key part of the coalition of countries that provides that support to Volodymyr and Ukraine.

"It is not a straightforward thing as Volodymyr and I have been discussing to build up that fighter combat aircraft capability.

"It's not just the provision of planes its also the training of pilots and all the logistics that go alongside that and the UK can play a big part in that.

"One thing we will be doing starting actually relatively soon is training of Ukrainian pilots and that's something we've discussed today and we're ready to implement those plans in relatively short order."

Mr Zelenskyy said the issue was "very important" for Ukraine and said "we have to work a little bit more on it".

The Prime Minister has also confirmed further UK provision of further unmanned aerial systems, including hundreds of new long-range attack drones with a range of over 200km.

Zelenskyy touches down in the UK
Zelenskyy touches down in the UK. Picture: Downing Street/UK
Sunak embraces Zelenskyy in surprise visit to UK
Sunak embraces Zelenskyy in surprise visit to UK. Picture: Downing Street/Twitter

Announcing his surprise visit on Monday, Mr Zelenskyy tweeted: "Today – London. The UK is a leader when it comes to expanding our capabilities on the ground and in the air. This cooperation will continue today.

"I will meet my friend Rishi. We will conduct substantive negotiations face-to-face and in delegations."

Speaking ahead of Mr Zelenskyy's visit to Chequers - the country house of the Prime Minister - Mr Sunak said: "This is a crucial moment in Ukraine’s resistance to a terrible war of aggression they did not choose or provoke.

"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 frontlines of Putin’s war of aggression may be in Ukraine but the fault lines stretch all over the world. It is in all our interest to ensure Ukraine succeeds and Putin’s barbarism is not rewarded.

"That is why the UK is sustaining our support to Ukraine – from tanks to training, ammunition to armoured vehicles. And this message of solidarity will ring loud in all my meetings with fellow world leaders in the days ahead."

Read More: Zelenskyy holds talks with Pope Francis in Rome as Italy pledges full support in Ukraine's fight against Russia

During his visit, Mr Zelenskyy updated the Prime Minister on recent meetings with European leaders, including in Paris and Rome.

It follows meetings in Paris, Berlin and Rome, and comes three months after his first trip to London since the start of the war.

Mr Zelenskyy's last visit to the UK was in February when he met with Mr Sunak and the King.

During his visit, Mr Zelenskyy thanked Britain for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine while asking for fighter jets to bring the war to an end.

He said he was "proud" of his air force but asked for more planes to fight the war.

"We pay with our lives... with the lives of our heroes who risk life and death every day," he explained at the time.

Poland became the first NATO member to announce it would sent jets to Ukraine back in March.

Rishi Sunak and Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the UK in February
Rishi Sunak and Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the UK in February. Picture: Getty
It comes as part of Zelenskyy's mini European tour
It comes as part of Zelenskyy's mini European tour. Picture: Getty

The country announced it would sent Soviet-era fighter jets following Mr Zelenskyy's pleas, with four transferred last month.

Overall, ten have been transferred so far.

Read More: Putin loses two of Russia's top commanders killed by Ukrainian troops in battle for Bakhmut

It comes amid fierce fighting in Bakhmut in the east of Ukraine.

On Sunday, Russia confirmed that two of its top commanders were killed as fighting rages on.

The Russian defence ministry confirmed that Commander Vyacheslav Makarov of the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade and Deputy Commander Yevgeny Brovko were killed.