Russia-Ukraine War Britain Pledges to Train Ukraine’s Pilots, Signaling That Warplanes Could Come Next

Russia-Ukraine War Britain Pledges to Train Ukraine’s Pilots, Signaling That Warplanes Could Come Next

Zelensky’s surprise visit to London was his first stop on a brief tour of Europe.

LULWORTH CAMP MILITARY BASE, England — Britain’s new promise to train Ukrainian pilots on NATO-standard jets is just a “first step,” the country’s prime minister, Rishi Sunak, said on Wednesday, strongly suggesting the training pledge was a prelude to providing Ukraine with advanced British fighter planes to help battle invading Russian forces.

“With regard to aircraft, we have already said nothing is off the table, and the first step on that has to be to have people who can fly what are very sophisticated pieces of kit,” Mr. Sunak said at a joint media conference with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, at a British military base in southern England. “When it comes to fighter combat aircraft, of course, they are part of the conversation,” Mr. Sunak said, adding, “we do need to make sure that they can operate the aircraft that they potentially could be using.”

At the news conference, the two leaders spoke from lecterns in front of a Challenger 2 tank at a military base in Dorset, in the south of England, where members of the Ukrainian armed forces have been trained. Britain, which was in the vanguard in offering tanks to Ukraine, has promised to send 14 of its Challenger 2 vehicles, and Mr. Sunak said they would arrive within “weeks.”

Wearing his familiar military-style clothing, Mr. Zelensky thanked Britain for its support in the conflict with Russia and said he had heard from Mr. Sunak of his “desire to provide fighter jets.” And he warned that without additional advanced weaponry from the West, the war in Ukraine could descend into a stalemate with Russia.

Without new weapons, Mr. Zelensky said, “There will be stagnation, which will not lead to anything good.”

In Washington, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken underscored the urgency of bolstering Ukraine’s military capabilities. At a joint news conference with Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, Mr. Blinken said that recent statements by President Vladimir V. Putin showed that the Russian leader still had no interest in diplomacy.

“Clearly President Putin has no genuine interest in diplomacy right now,” Mr. Blinken said, adding that U.S. officials believe “the best way to hasten prospects for diplomacy is to keep tilting the battlefield in Ukraine’s favor. This will ensure that Ukraine has the strongest possible hand to play at a negotiating table when one emerges.”

For his part, Mr. Sunak has made it clear that Britain has shifted from its initial reluctance to provide Ukraine with fighter jets, though he has made no formal pledge to send them.

At the news conference with Mr. Zelensky, Mr. Sunak said, “There are other allies involved” in the question of sending jets. Doing so would require the approval of other Western nations, which he said Britain was talking to.

The news conference followed Mr. Zelensky’s address to the British Parliament and his meeting with King Charles III at Buckingham Palace, and he went to Paris Wednesday evening for another stop on the brief tour of Europe he started in the morning in Britain.

Throughout the news conference, Mr. Zelensky subtly kept up the pressure on Mr. Sunak, who said that it would take inexperienced pilots three years to learn to fly sophisticated British jets like the Typhoon.

“When it comes to Typhoon,” Mr. Zelensky said, “I didn’t know it takes three years to train a pilot like that. Come on, we will be sending you pilots who have already trained for two and a half years.”

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