Berlin (CNSNews.com) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made an unexpected visit Wednesday to Britain, where he urged the U.K. and allies to supply fighter jets as his country continues to fight back against the Russian invasion.
The visit, only the second time Zelenskyy has left the country since the invasion began, comes as Ukraine braces for an anticipated new Russian offensive, as the war nears its one-year anniversary.
“I will be leaving parliament today thanking you all in advance for powerful English planes,” Zelenskyy said in an address to the House of Commons.
“The king is an Air Force pilot,” he said, in reference to King Charles III. “In Ukraine today, every Air Force pilot is a king.”
Zelenskyy’s first trip abroad since Russia invaded took place in December, when he visited Washington to seek further financial and military support. Like that trip, the one to London was kept under wraps until shortly before he arrived.
While the U.S. and European nations have recently agreed to provide battle tanks to the Ukrainians, allies have so far mostly ruled out supplying Kyiv with fighter jets.
Still, speaking alongside Zelenskyy during a press conference, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that “nothing is off the table.”
Poland has been the most vocal proponent of supplying jets to its neighbor. The Polish ambassador in Berlin, Dariusz Pawlos, called for a decision on the matter to be made during the Munich Security Conference, which takes place February 17-19.
“We proposed that the heads of state and government meeting there not only discuss this issue, but also make a decision,” Pawlos told news service Redaktions Netwerk Deutschland.
Warsaw previously made clear it would support any NATO decision to supply fighter jets to Ukraine.
Zelenskyy’s visit to Britain underscores the fact that he has yet to travel to Brussels to meet with European Union leaders.
E.U. leaders are due to meet on Thursday and Friday to discuss ongoing support for Ukraine, and speculation had been rife that Zelenskyy would take part.
The center-right European People’s Party posted a tweet saying, “We look forward to welcoming you in Brussels, Mr. President Volodymyr Zelensky,” but then removed it, and E.U. officials played down the rumors.
E.U. Council spokesperson Barend Leyts confirmed that Council President Charles Michel had invited Zelenskyy “to participate in person in a future summit of the European Council,” but added that “for security reasons, no further information will be provided.”
A spokesperson for European Parliament president Roberta Metsola said only that an “open invitation” to Zelenskyy had been in place for over a year.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Zelenskyy would make overseas trips only if doing so would bring “specific results for Ukraine.”
Last week Michel and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen took part in a summit in Kyiv, the first of its kind since the invasion began.
During that visit, Zelenskyy implored the bloc to impose more sanctions on Russia and to speed up Kyiv’s application to join the bloc.
Michel said in a tweet after the summit that the E.U. would support Ukraine “in every way we can, for as long as it takes,” although neither he nor von der Leyen made any comment on further steps, such as a date for negotiations on Kyiv’s E.U. membership bid to begin.
New offensive fears
Ukraine has said it expects a new Russian offensive, possibly to coincide with the anniversary of the beginning of the invasion on February 24.
Zelenskyy’s trip to London came a day after Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands announced they will provide Ukraine with at least 100 refurbished German-made Leopard 1 battle tanks, “including the required logistic support and training.”
Earlier, Berlin authorized the delivery of more modern Leopard 2 tanks from its own stocks, following months of hesitation.
German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said during a visit to Washington on Tuesday that while he could not provide an exact timetable, “large numbers [of tanks] will be made available, in order to then ward off the Russian spring offensive.”
President Biden announced at the end of January that the U.S. will send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, days after said it would supply Ukraine with 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks.
A new U.S. arms package announced on Friday includes precision missiles with a range of 150 kilometers.
“For 2023, Ukraine will come under increasing pressure from Russian offensives,” Gustav Gressel, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations said in an analysis. “There is one scenario to rule out: a stalemate in the conflict. Putin is only interested in full victory.”
“If supplies of heavy ground combat vehicles (tanks and infantry fighting vehicles) from the West pick up steam, a Ukrainian counter-offensive may well be on the cards for the second half of the year,” Gressel said. “But the numbers of Western-made systems that Ukraine’s supporters have promised to send are still low.”
“They will only have an impact on the war if deliveries increase and accumulate over the rest of the year,” he said.
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