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surprise visit

Zelensky arrives in Paris on first visit since Russian invasion

The Ukrainian president has urged the UK and Western allies to provide ‘wings for freedom’ by supplying his air force with advanced jets.

LAST UPDATE | 8 Feb 2023

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR Zelenskyy has arrived in Paris for his first visit to an EU member state since the Russian invasion almost one year ago.

Zelenskyy, flying to France after talks in London, touched down at Paris Orly airport aboard a UK government plane this evening.

His visit – which appeared to have been squeezed in at the last minute – saw him hold a late dinner meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, joined by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

But despite the contrast in formats, Zelenskyy’s demands were the same: more weapons, especially fighter jets and longer range missiles, and faster deliveries.

Macron has pledged today that France would help Ukraine to victory in fighting the Russian invasion and would press on with efforts to deliver arms.

zelensky-macron-and-scholz-press-conference-paris Jacques Witt / PA Jacques Witt / PA / PA

France is “determined to help Ukraine to victory and the re-establishment of its legitimate rights,” said Macron ahead of tonight’s dinner, adding Paris would “continue the efforts” to deliver arms to Kyiv.

Zelenskyy said: ”The sooner Ukraine gets long-range heavy weaponry, the sooner our pilots get planes, the sooner this Russian aggression will end and we can return to peace in Europe.”

In a tweet tonight, Macron shared a video of Zelenskyy’s arrival at the presidential residence with the short statement: “Welcome to Paris, dear friend. Ukraine can count on France.”

On a surprise visit to the UK today, Zelenskyy urged British and Western allies to provide “wings for freedom” by supplying his air force with advanced jets.

He used an address to the British Parliament to thank the UK for its steadfast support since Russia invaded.

Sunak has asked the Defence Secretary to investigate what jets the UK could potentially give to Ukraine.

He said “nothing is off the table” in terms of military aid for Ukraine.

Fighter jets for Ukraine were “part of the conversation”, Sunak told a joint news conference with Zelenskyy, who confirmed he would be joining an EU summit tomorrow and appealed also for long-range missiles.

‘Wings for freedom’

Addressing a packed Westminster Hall, Zelenskyy said: “I appeal to you and the world with simple and yet most important words: combat aircraft for Ukraine, wings for freedom.”

embedded270909581 Lindsay Hoyle holds the helmet of a Ukrainian fighter pilot, presented to him by Zelenskyy Stefan Rousseau / PA Images Stefan Rousseau / PA Images / PA Images

“In Britain, the king is an air force pilot and in Ukraine today, every air force pilot is a king.”

“The United Kingdom is marching with us towards the most, I think, the most important victory of our lifetime. It will be a victory over the very idea of the war.”

After his address, Zelenskyy met Britain’s King Charles in Buckingham Palace.

ukrainian-president-volodymyr-zelensky-visit-to-uk PA PA

They discussed the continuing conflict in Ukraine, and the part Britain has played in supporting the nation.

Further representatives from Ukraine were then welcomed into the room for an introduction and informal conversation with the King and a chance to have pictures taken individually.

Zelenskyy and Sunak later visited Lulworth Camp in Dorset to meet Ukrainian soldiers being trained by the British Army to use Challenger 2 tanks.

ukrainian-president-volodymyr-zelensky-visit-to-uk UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy meet Ukrainian troops being trained to use Challenger 2 tanks PA PA

The two leaders met some of the Ukrainian troops before Zelenskyy gave a short speech and thanked the Prime Minister.

The tank training involves nine instructors from the Royal Tank Regiment and Queen’s Royal Hussars of the Royal Armoured Corps which is based at Tidworth, Wiltshire.

The Ukrainian soldiers are being trained on four to five tanks as well as simulators.

Sunak said this evening that the UK Challenger 2 tanks will be deployed in Ukraine next month.

“The Ukrainian crews who arrived last week will be using Challenger 2 tanks to defend Ukraine sovereign territory next month,” Sunak said. 

Coalition of countries

Zelenskyy has said he wanted a coalition of nations to supply planes.

Germany’s Defence Minister Boris Pistorius has today said he believed Berlin and its allies would be able to send a first battalion of Leopard 2 tanks to war-torn Ukraine by April.

“I think we could deliver at least one battalion in the first four months of this year. Three months maybe,” he told reporters while on a visit to Warsaw.

“And then we have to proceed as fast as possible of course,” he added, as the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine looms.

Germany recently gave the green light for Leopard battle tanks to be sent to Ukraine after a tireless campaign by Kyiv and allied countries.

It agreed to sent 14 Leopard 2 units from its own military stocks and also approved the reexport of the battle tanks to Ukraine by allies.

Poland has also pledged 14 tanks and Canada will send four, with Norway, Finland, Spain and Portugal indicating they will take part but with no specific numbers.

Yesterday, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands also promised that Ukraine would get at least 100 Leopard 1 tanks in the “coming months”.

Earlier today, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said it was clear that Russia would not win the war and assured Ukraine its future was in the EU.

Russia vows ‘response’

Russia has said that it would respond if Britain sends warplanes to Ukraine, warning of an escalation.

“Russia will find a response to any unfriendly steps taken by the British side,” Moscow’s embassy in London said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.

The Russian embassy said that London would bear responsibility for the “‘bloody harvest’ of the next round of escalation as well as military and political consequences ensuing from this for the European continent and the whole world.”

© AFP 2023 

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