Russian officials have attacked Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s “hasty” visit to Europe – dismissing his speech to MPs in Westminster as “theatrical”.
The Ukrainian president made a surprise appearance in London on Wednesday, where he urged the UK and Western allies to provide “wings for freedom” by supplying advanced jets.
Mr Zelenskyy then travelled to Paris for talks over dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz – and he is expected to attend an EU summit in Brussels later today.
But in a strongly worded statement, the Russian embassy in London said: “Zelenskyy’s pompous solicitations about the values of ‘freedom’ and ‘human rights’, which Kiev claims to be fighting for, were overtly hypocritical.”
The embassy went on to mock “the ex-comedian in a green sweatshirt now on tour around Europe” – and also had a warning for the UK government.
“We would like to remind London: in the event of such a scenario, the death toll of yet another round of escalation, as well as its military-political consequences for the European continent and the whole world will be on the United Kingdom’s hands. Russia will know how to respond to any unfriendly actions by the British side,” it said.
Zelenskyy calls for more weapons
On Thursday, Mr Zelenskyy is set to address the European Parliament in what will be his third stop on a surprise trip across the continent.
While Mr Zelenskyy is unlikely to secure immediate pledges to satisfy his requests, this will be his first opportunity to make the case in person to EU member states since the war began almost a year ago.
It follows a powerful speech in Westminster Hall on Wednesday, followed by talks with the leaders of France and Germany over dinner in Paris.
Rishi Sunak has said “nothing is off the table” when it comes to assisting the war effort in Ukraine and fighter jets “are part of the conversation”.
Mr Zelenskyy received a standing ovation after his speech in London.
Later at a military site in Dorset alongside the Ukrainian president, the prime minister was asked “to provide absolute clarity” on whether Ukraine will receive jets from the UK and, if so, when.
“We’ve been very clear and we’ve been clear for a long time that when it comes to the provision of military assistance to Ukraine, nothing is off the table,” Mr Sunak said.
“When it comes to fighter combat aircraft of course they are part of the conversation.”
Sunak says fighter jets aren’t ‘off the table’ – but does the UK really have capacity?
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has confidently assured Ukraine’s president that “nothing is off the table” when it comes to the question of fighter jets, but he should perhaps have a look at exactly what is on his table first.
Here is a clue: It isn’t much and certainly does not include fast jets anytime soon.
Decades of cuts to the UK armed forces have left the Royal Air Force a runt of its former self with far too few planes, pilots and instructors to teach new talent.
Ukraine’s air force is in desperate need of multi-role jets – aircraft that can fight in the air, such as by taking out missiles or attacking enemy aircraft and bomb targets on the ground.
The Royal Air Force had exactly the right kind of airframe for such a task and had enough in stock to be able to offer some away to a friendly nation in need – the Tornado GR4.
Unfortunately, all of those aircraft were retired from service four years ago to save money.
‘More military assistance needed’
After the Western world came together to agree on sending tanks to Ukraine, Kyiv is requesting warplanes to repel the Russian invasion.
Mr Zelenskyy told the news conference that without more military assistance “there will be stagnation, these people [Russian soldiers] will be living on our territory and this poses great risk to all of the world”.
Downing Street said the prime minister has asked Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to investigate what warplanes the UK could supply but stressed any potential move to do so would not happen immediately.
But according to Professor Michael Clarke, a defence and security analyst, the UK “doesn’t have” the right sort of jets to offer.
This is Mr Zelenskyy’s second trip outside Ukraine since Russia invaded last February.
After visiting parliament, he travelled to Buckingham Palace for an audience with the King and later visited Lulworth Camp in Dorset with Mr Sunak, to meet Ukrainian troops being trained by the British Army.
Following his talks with Mr Macron and Mr Scholz, he said: “France and Germany have the potential to be game changers and that’s how I see our talks.
“The sooner we get heavy long-range weapons and our pilots get modern planes … the quicker this Russian aggression will end.”
Also on the agenda during Mr Zelenskyy’s visit to Brussels will be a discussion on Ukraine joining the European Union.