Volodymyr Zelensky makes surprise stop in London to lobby Rishi Sunak for support

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LONDON, May 15 (UPI) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in London on Monday on a surprise visit for talks with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to lobby for more support ahead of an anticipated Spring offensive against the Russian occupation.

Zelensky announced the visit on his Twitter account just minutes before his aircraft touched down, as he praised Britain for being among Ukraine‘s most steadfast backers when it came to assisting Ukraine militarily.

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“The U.K. 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,” Zelensky said in his post.

Fresh from a visit to Germany on Sunday where Chancellor Olaf Scholz promised his nation’s continued support “for as long as it is necessary,” Zelensky was whisked off to Chequers — Sunak’s country retreat — where he will update the prime minister on his meetings with European leaders over the weekend as Ukraine prepares for an intensified period of military activity, Downing Street said in a news release.

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“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,” Sunak said.

“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.

Sunak said Britain would keep up its support for Ukraine “from tanks to training, ammunition to armored vehicles,” as he was expected to announce more military aid following last week’s confirmation that Britain had donated long-range Storm Shadow cruise missiles that can be launched from aircraft, ships or submarines.

The Ministry of Defense will confirm Monday the additional provision of hundreds of air defense missiles and further unmanned aerial systems including hundreds of new long-range attack drones with a range of more than 125 miles, to be delivered over the coming months.

During their meeting, Sunak will reiterate Britain’s emphasis on providing a comprehensive support package to Ukraine — including training, economic aid, sanctions and long-term security guarantees — to put Ukraine in the strongest possible position to secure a lasting peace.

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Sunak will also discuss with Zelensky what support Ukraine needs from the international community, both in terms of immediate military equipment and long-term defenses.

The meeting comes ahead of this week’s Council of Europe Summit in Iceland, which Sunak will attend and President Zelensky will attend virtually, and the G7 Summit in Japan.

Sunak will use the two gatherings to push for sustained international support for Ukraine both in terms of military aid and long-term security assurances, added Downing Street.

Britain has trained 15,000 Ukrainian troops to battlefield readiness over the past 12 months and in February announced a new training program for Ukrainian pilots to support efforts to build a new Ukrainian air force with NATO-standard, F16 jets.

Since the beginning of this year, Britain has also sent a squadron of Challenger 2 main battle tanks, self-propelled guns, hundreds of armored vehicles and sophisticated missiles including Starstreak and Storm Shadow — on top of $2.9 billion of military aid in 2022.

Britain hosts a Ukraine Recovery Conference next month to galvanize international investment to support reconstruction, promoting emerging sectors including clean energy and tech where the country was thriving before Russia’s invasion.