Sunak: Ukraine pilot training is ‘first step’ towards potential supply of jets

Sunak: Ukraine pilot training is ‘first step’ towards potential supply of jets

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky continued his push for European support as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised “we will continue to stand by Ukraine”.

Mr Zelensky addressed the European Parliament in Brussels on Thursday in the latest stop on a tour which began with his surprise visit to the UK.

Meanwhile Mr Sunak, who promised further support for Ukraine during the British leg of Mr Zelensky’s visit, said the offer of pilot training was the “first step” which could lead to the eventual supply of fighter planes.

“We’re talking about further support, potentially with aircraft as well,” Mr Sunak said.

“The important first step of that journey is to make sure that we provide the training for Ukrainian pilots to be able to use that very sophisticated equipment.”

The UK will be the first nation to start training Ukrainian pilots on Nato-standard aircraft, and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has been told to investigate which jets the UK could potentially give to Ukraine as it fights invading Russian forces.

Speaking during a visit to Cornwall,  Mr Sunak said he also had “very good conversations” with Mr Zelensky about providing long-range missiles which “are going to make a big difference in the struggle against Russian aggression”.

Mr Wallace, in Rome for talks with Italian counterparts, told the BBC there was no immediate prospect of British jets being sent to Ukraine.

“This is not a simple case of towing an aircraft to the border,” Mr Wallace told the BBC.

“Britain knows what Ukraine needs and is very happy to help in many ways trying to achieve the effect.

“Those same effects can be done, but potentially through a different way – and without taking months, which of course gifting fighter jets would take.”

He also dismissed a suggestion from former prime minister Boris Johnson that the UK could hand over 100 Typhoon jets.

The Russian Embassy in the UK warned against the supply of jets and said that Moscow “will know how to respond to any unfriendly actions by the British side”.

Mr Zelensky’s trip, which has seen stops in the UK, France and Belgium, is only his second overseas tour since the Russian invasion of his country almost a year ago.

He said Ukraine and the European Union are fighting together against Russia – “the most anti-European force” in the world.

And he emphasised his country’s desire to join the bloc: “A Ukraine that is winning is going to be member of the European Union.”

Before his address, European Parliament president Roberta Metsola said allies should consider “quickly, as a next step, providing long-range systems” and fighter jets.