Britain has promised to supply Ukraine with “hundreds” of air defence missiles and long-range attack drones but said it has “no plans” to send fighter jets, following a surprise visit on Monday morning by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Mr Zelenskiy flew into Britain shortly before 8am after visits over previous days to Paris, Milan and Berlin as he attempts to shore up European support for the flow of military hardware to his nation as it readies to go on a counteroffensive against Russia.
He then travelled to Chequers, the Buckinghamshire country retreat of the British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, for talks with the UK leader over the supply of further weapons.
Last week, Britain became the first country to supply Ukraine with long-range cruise missiles. It confirmed it had sent it Storm Shadow missiles that have a range of close to 250km. That is triple the previous outer range within which Ukraine is capable striking, allowing it to hit Russian forces anywhere inside Ukrainian territory, including Crimea.
On Monday, Britain confirmed it will also send attack drones with a range of over 200km to buttress Ukraine’s offensive. It is also sending it “hundreds” of air defence missiles.
But despite pleas to the West from Mr Zelenskiy for the fighter jets that it says it needs to defend its nation from Russian attack, he has yet to secure any commitments on that front.
“There are no plans to do that,” said a spokesman for Mr Sunak, when asked if Britain would send fighter jets. The spokesman said Ukraine has said it prefers to receive US-made F16 fighter jets, which Britain does not use.
Following the meeting in Chequers, Mr Zelenskiy called for a “coalition of jets” to help his nation. He said he expected “very important decisions” to be taken soon on the matter. He conceded, however, that “we have to work a little bit more on it”.
Speaking as he stood beside Ukraine’s president, Mr Sunak said it is “not a straightforward thing” to supply jets to Ukraine.
Britain has already promised to train Ukrainian pilots on jets that are of a standard used by the US-led military alliance Nato.
“This summer we will commence an elementary flying phase for cohorts of Ukrainian pilots to learn basic training. This will adapt the programme used by UK pilots to provide Ukrainians with piloting skills they can apply a different kind of aircraft,” said the British government.
Following his talks with the British prime minister, Mr Zelenskiy left Chequers on a Chinook helicopter.
Next month, Britain will host the Ukraine Recovery Conference to raise funds to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and economy after the war is finished. Mr Zelenskiy has suggested he believes his country has won this year, although Britain’s Ministry of Defence has previously suggested this is considered unlikely.