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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

U.K. promises more missiles and drones for Ukraine

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, left, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain at Chequers, the prime minister’s official country residence, northwest of London, on Monday.

By Mark Landler

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain pledged on Monday to provide a large package of missiles and attack drones to Ukraine, ahead of a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky, who over the weekend secured promises of billions of dollars in additional military aid from European allies.

Mr. Zelensky, who has been on a whirlwind tour of Europe to shore up support ahead of a counteroffensive against Russia, hugged Mr. Sunak when he landed at the British leader’s country residence outside London, Chequers, on Monday morning. The Ukrainian president — who referred to Mr. Sunak in a tweet as “my friend Rishi” — later said he was “very pleased” by the results of his European tour.

The prime minister’s office said that in addition to the cruise missiles it announced last week, Britain would deliver “hundreds of air defense missiles and further unmanned aerial systems,” including long-range drones to support Ukraine in its anticipated counteroffensive.

“This is a crucial moment in Ukraine’s resistance to a terrible war of aggression they did not choose or provoke,” Mr. Sunak said in a statement on Monday. “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.”

The two leaders met for around two hours at Chequers before emerging to take a few questions from journalists, with Mr. Zelensky expressing thanks to Britain, Germany and France for their new weapons pledges over the weekend.

“I am very pleased with our achievements and agreements,” Mr. Zelensky said, according to Ukrinform, a Ukrainian state-funded news outlet. “Powerful defense packages are really important.”

Recent Ukrainian military advances around the embattled city of Bakhmut prompted some Russian military bloggers to claim that Kyiv’s long-anticipated counteroffensive was already underway. But Mr. Zelensky said last week that Ukraine needed to wait for more hardware from the West to arrive, specifically armored vehicles, before it could launch the assault. When asked if that was still fair to say on Monday, Mr. Zelensky told journalists that “we really need some more time.”

“Not too much,” he said, according to the BBC. “We will be ready in some time.”

The Kremlin, though, dismissed the significance of Britain’s new military aid pledge.

“We take an extremely negative view of it,” the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told journalists, according to the Russian state news agency Tass, but he said the new weapons would “not have any significant impact” on the course of the war.

Britain provided about $2.8 billion in military assistance to Ukraine in 2022, making it one of Kyiv’s largest backers. Mr. Sunak also promised to start training Ukrainian fighter pilots this summer, though he has yet to commit to sending British fighter jets to Ukraine. Instead, Britain has said it will help other countries that supply combat aircraft by providing support systems.

Mr. Zelensky’s brief visit to Britain comes after he traveled over the weekend to Italy, Germany and France, meeting with Pope Francis and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in Rome, Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin, and President Emmanuel Macron in Paris. On Saturday, Germany announced an arms package of almost $3 billion, and on Sunday, France also pledged more weaponry for Ukraine.

The British government confirmed last week that it would begin supplying Ukraine with long-range cruise missiles, continuing its policy of being in the vanguard in providing the Ukrainian Army heavier weapons to fight Russian forces.

The missiles, which are known as Storm Shadow and have a range of more than 155 miles, would “allow Ukraine to push back Russian forces based in Ukrainian sovereign territory,” according to Britain’s defense secretary, Ben Wallace.

Britain, with its aggressive approach, has often acted as a catalyst for other Western countries to supply Ukraine with heavier weapons. Its decision to send a squadron of Challenger 2 main battle tanks foreshadowed decisions by Germany and the United States to send more sophisticated tanks.

The Ukrainian leader last visited Britain in February, delivering an emotional speech in which he pleaded for NATO countries to supply Ukraine with fighter jets. Mr. Sunak has said fighter jets are on the table, but he has not yet taken the step of committing them.

A spokesman for Mr. Sunak’s office affirmed that point on Monday, telling the BBC that Britain had “no plans” to supply jets to Ukraine.

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