Sunak pledges to stand ‘shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine for years to come’, ahead of Zelensky surprise visit

Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian President, is travelling to the UK today for the first time since Russia’s invasion began. He will address parliament and meet Rishi Sunak at Downing Street.

This is only Zelensky’s second visit outside his country since Russia invaded Ukraine almost a year ago, following his visit to Washington DC in December.

The prime minister is expected to use the opportunity to announce that Britain will send Ukraine longer-range weapons. Mr Sunak is also expected to unveil an expanded training programme for Ukrainian troops, including training Ukrainians to become fighter pilots.

The visit will likely frustrate Russia’s Vladimir Putin, with the Kremlin upping its military rhetoric in recent weeks.

Moscow has warned against supplying fighter jets to Ukraine, arguing it would be a clear indication of direct Western involvement in the war.

Commenting on Mr Zelensky’s surprise trip, the prime minister hailed the Ukrainian President’s “courage”. “President Zelensky’s visit to the UK is a testament to his country’s courage, determination and fight, and a testament to the unbreakable friendship between our two countries”, Mr Sunak said in a statement ahead of the visit.

He added: “Since 2014, the UK has provided vital training to Ukrainian forces, allowing them to defend their country, protect their sovereignty and fight for their territory.

“I am proud that today we will expand that training from soldiers to marines and fighter jet pilots, ensuring Ukraine has a military able to defend its interests well into the future. It also underlines our commitment to not just provide military equipment for the short term, but a long-term pledge to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine for years to come”.

During the visit, Mr Zelensky will watch his country’s troops being trained by British armed forces, with Mr Sunak announcing that Britain will begin training Ukrainian marines.

That training will be in addition to the existing programme which has seen 10,000 Ukrainian troops trained for battle in the last six months.

It comes as US president Joe Biden promised that the United States would support Ukraine for as long as it takes to fight off the Russian invasion.

“We’re going to stand with you, as long as it takes. Our nation is working for more freedom, more dignity, more peace – not just in Europe, but everywhere”, Mr Biden said, addressing Ukraine’s ambassador to Washington, Oksana Markarova, who was in attendance at the president’s State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday.