▶️ Britain Announces Joint Effort to Get Ukraine Fighters
✪ Kyiv appears to have dropped its campaign to get British fighter jets flying over Ukraine, instead taking the UK’s assistance in getting the more common, U.S.-made F16 Falcon instead.
Volodymyr Zelensky made a ‘surprise’ visit to the United Kingdom on Monday morning, meeting with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for what the Ukrainian leader said would be “substantive negotiations”.
Zelensky praised the UK for being a “leader when it comes to expanding our capabilities on the ground and in the air”, foreshadowing what he presumably hoped would be the direction of development: despite travelling European capitals asking for Western jet fighters this week, Zelensky has yet to get that sort of donations yet. Ukraine has recently spoken of wanting to get 200 F-16s, to build five new squadrons.
On his last visit to the United Kingdom, President Zelensky thanked the country “in advance” for the British jet fighters he presumed were going to be handed over, going so far as to present the helmet of a Ukrainian fighter pilot to the Speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, after addressing the Parliament.
Yet hope for those British jets seems to have died — not least because the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force doesn’t have jets to spare — with Ukraine and the UK apparently agreeing to work together from now on to persuade other Western nations to hand over their F16s to help defend against the Russian invasion.
The United Kingdom’s position in this ‘jet coalition’ is twofold, it appears today, with assistance being given to onboard F-16-owning nations on one hand, and providing Ukrainian pilots with flight training on the other hand. How far that training could go, given the United Kingdom does not officially have any F-16s to train with, has not yet been publicly discussed.
Mr Sunak said today that the training aspect would cover “training Ukrainian citizens to become absolutely combat-ready aircraft pilots,” suggesting it may be raw recruits learning the trade, before going elsewhere to become airframe specialized on F-16s.
Further he said of this jet coalition, per The Times, that this training would commence “actually relatively soon” and that “Other countries are involved. I’m talking to those leaders, I’ll be doing more of that this week in my international engagements. We’re very keen to build that coalition of countries to give Volodymyr and his people the aircraft support they need.”
Zelensky said of the plan: “Today we spoke about the jets, a very important topic for us because we can’t control the sky… We want to create this jet coalition and I’m very positive with it. We spoke about it and I see that in the closest time you will hear some, I think, very important decisions. But we have to work a little bit more on it.”
In terms of work left to do, the greatest roadblock facing this new jet coalition is the United States, which has so far sending American-made jets to Ukraine and without whose support, it is difficult to imagine anyone could donate.
While any pressure the United Kingdom could bring to bear on this subject would likely come in private, the British Foreign Minister James Cleverly made rare remarks on the subject at a question-and-answer with the Atlantic Council in Washington D.C. last week, when he was asked about Ukraine’s demands for F-16 jet fighters. While the minister didn’t mention the fighters by name in his response, Mr Cleverly did say “if we’re saving stuff up for a rainy day, this is the rainy day” and that the United Kingdom’s position is to give Ukraine “the tools they need to get the job done, and give them those tools in the here and now.”
Leaning into the point on how, it seemed — and has been interpreted by some — that the United Kingdom isn’t in a position to give F-16s to Ukraine and that would have to come from others, Cleverly said: “That’s why the UK has been very active in our support, very vocal in saying this support needs to come from allies as quickly as possible.”
The U.S., for their part, have ruled out F-16s: President Biden recently said of the idea of sending jets to Ukraine: “no.” The reluctance is understood to be over the potential for escalation, and that U.S.-made jets could be used to attack Russia itself: certainly, some Ukrainian figures have spoken of a counter-invasion of Russia in revenge of late, although to what degree this is wartime propaganda and bravado or actual intent is hard to gauge. ✪
▶️ Zelenskyy Makes Surprise Paris Visit To Meet Macron
✪ France pledged additional military aid for Ukraine on Sunday, including light tanks, armored vehicles, training for soldiers and other assistance as the Ukrainians gear up for a counteroffensive against Russian forces, following surprise talks in Paris between the Ukrainian and French presidents.
Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy and France’s Emmanuel Macron met for about three hours at the French presidential Elysee Palace — an encounter kept under wraps until shortly before the Ukrainian leader’s arrival in Paris from Germany on a French government jet, extending his multi-stop European tour.
With Ukraine planning to go on the offensive hoping to retake Russian-occupied territory, military aid was a top agenda item. Macron’s office said France will supply dozens of light tanks and armored vehicles “in the weeks ahead,” without giving specific numbers. Also promised were more air defense systems, but again details weren’t made public.
More Ukrainians will also be made battle-ready, with France aiming to train about 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers in France this year and nearly 4,000 others in Poland as part of a wider European effort, Macron’s office said.
In a statement, France described its support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity as “unwavering” and promised that its political, economic, humanitarian and military aid will continue “for as long as necessary.”
In a tweet on his arrival, Zelenskyy said: “With each visit, Ukraine’s defense and offensive capabilities are expanding. The ties with Europe are getting stronger, and the pressure on Russia is growing.”
France has supplied Ukraine with an array of weaponry, include air defense systems, light tanks, howitzers and other arms and equipment and fuel.
France dispatched a plane to pick up Zelenskyy in Germany, where he met with Chancellor Olaf Scholz earlier Sunday and discussed his country’s planned counteroffensive. Zelenskyy said it will aim to liberate Russian-occupied areas within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, and not attack Russian territory.
The Washington Post cited previously undisclosed documents from a trove of U.S. intelligence leaks suggesting that Zelenskyy has considered trying to capture areas in Russia proper for possible use as bargaining chips in peace negotiations to end the war launched by Moscow in February 2022. This would put him at odds with Western governments that have insisted that weapons they provide must not be used to attack targets in Russia.
Asked about the report, Zelenskyy said: “We don’t attack Russian territory, we liberate our own legitimate territory.”
“We have neither the time nor the strength (to attack Russia),” he said, according to an official interpreter. “And we also don’t have weapons to spare, with which we could do this.”
“We are preparing a counterattack for the illegally occupied areas based on our constitutionally defined legitimate borders, which are recognized internationally,” Zelenskyy said.
Among areas still occupied by Russia are the Crimean peninsula and parts of eastern Ukraine with mainly Russian-speaking populations.
A Luftwaffe jet flew Zelenskyy to the German capital from Rome, where he met Saturday with Pope Francis and Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni.
It was his first visit to Berlin since the start of the invasion and came a day after the German government announced a new package of military aid for Ukraine worth more than 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion), including tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition.
Zelenskyy thanked Scholz for the support, saying Germany is now second only behind the United States in providing aid to Ukraine — and joked that he is working to make it the biggest donor.
“German air defense systems, artillery, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles are saving Ukrainian lives and bringing us closer to victory. Germany is a reliable ally! Together we are bringing peace closer!” he wrote on Twitter.
Scholz said that Berlin has so far given Kyiv some 17 billion euros in bilateral aid and that it can expect more in future.
After initially hesitating to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons, Germany has become one of the biggest suppliers of arms to Ukraine, including Leopard 1 and 2 battle tanks, and the sophisticated IRIS-T SLM air defense system. Modern Western hardware is considered crucial if Ukraine is to succeed in its planned counteroffensive.
In the western German city of Aachen, Zelenskyy also received the prestigious International Charlemagne Prize, awarded to him and the people of Ukraine.
In her congratulatory speech, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen compared the war in Ukraine to the fall of the Iron Curtain more than 30 years ago.
“Every generation has its moment when it has to stand up to defend democracy and what it believes in,” she said. “For us, that moment has come.”
Zelenskyy accused Moscow of trying to turn back the clock of European history. “Modern Russia waged war not just on us, as a free and sovereign state, not just against united Europe as a global symbol of peace and prosperity,” he said in his acceptance speech. “This is Russia’s war for the past.”✪
▶️ Germany Announces New $3 Billion Ukraine Aid Package
✪ Germany will provide Ukraine with additional military aid worth more than 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion), including tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition, the government said Saturday.
The announcement came on the eve of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s first visit to Germany since Russia invaded his country last year.
Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said that Berlin wanted to show with the latest package of arms “that Germany is serious in its support” for Ukraine. “Germany will provide all the help it can, as long as it takes,” he said.
Zelenskyy’s expected weekend visit — still not publicly confirmed by German officials for security reasons — is regarded in Berlin as a sign that relations between Ukraine and Germany have improved markedly after a rocky patch.
Kyiv has long been suspicious of Germany’s reliance on Russian energy and support for the Nord Stream gas pipelines circumventing Ukraine, defended by then Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Her successor, Olaf Scholz, agreed to phase out Russian energy imports after the invasion but initially hesitated to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons, fearing Germany could be drawn into the conflict.
With Washington, Warsaw and London more overtly supportive of Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself, Berlin got the cold diplomatic shoulder from Kyiv.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was disinvited from Ukraine last year,prompting annoyance in Germany, which pointed out that it had given considerable financial aid to Kyiv and taken in more than a million Ukrainian refugees. Scholz eventually visited Kyiv with French President Emmanuel Macron and other leaders in June.
Though slow to provide military aid, Germany has since become one of the biggest suppliers of arms to Ukraine, crucially giving the green light for the delivery of modern battle tanks like its own Leopard 1 and 2, along with sophisticated anti-aircraft systems needed to fend off drone and missile attacks.
The new military aid package, first reported by German weekly Der Spiegel, includes 30 Leopard 1 A5 tanks, 20 Marder armored personnel carriers, more than 100 combat vehicles, 18 self-propelled Howitzers, 200 reconnaissance drones, four IRIS-T SLM anti-aircraft systems and other air defense equipment. It comes after Ukrainian military commanders said their troops recaptured more territory from Russian forces near the eastern city of Bakhmut amid speculation about a possible counteroffensive by Kyiv.
The Ukrainian president would be arriving from Rome, where he was meeting Saturday with Pope Francis and Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni. Berlin police have imposed a security cordon throughout much of the capital’s government district Sunday.
After meeting Scholz and other senior officials at the chancellery, the two leaders are expected to fly to the western city of Aachen for Zelenskyy to receive the International Charlemagne Prize awarded to him and the people of Ukraine.
Organizers say the award recognizes that their resistance against Russia’s invasion is a defense “not just of the sovereignty of their country and the life of its citizens, but also of Europe and European values.”
Zelenskyy last visited Berlin in July 2021. He also attended the Munich Security Conference the following February, days before Russia launched its full-scale attack on Ukraine.✪
▶️ Zelenskyy Meets Pope Francis At The Vatican
✪ Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had private talks with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday, later saying he sought support for Ukraine’s peace plan from the pontiff, who in the past has offered to try to help end the full-scale war launched by Russia a year ago.
Zelenskyy held his hand over his heart and said it was a “great honor” to meet with the pope. Francis, using a cane for his knee problem, came to greet the Ukrainian president before ushering him into a papal studio near the Vatican’s audience hall.
In a tweet after the 40-minute audience, Zelenskyy expressed gratitude to Francis for “his personal attention to the tragedy of millions of Ukrainians.” He said he spoke with the pontiff “about the tens of thousands of deported (Ukrainian) children. We must make every effort to return them home.”
Last month, Ukraine’s prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, asked the pope to help get children returned from Russia to Ukraine. But the Vatican’s statement Saturday made no mention of the request.
Instead, the Vatican said the two men spoke about Ukraine’s “humanitarian and political situation provoked by the ongoing war.”
“The pope assured his constant prayer, paid witness to by his many public appeals and by his continued invoking of the Lord for peace, since February of last year,″ the Vatican said, a reference to the Russian invasion that began Feb. 24, 2022.
The meeting came as Russia’s defense ministry said Storm Shadow long-range cruise missiles delivered to Ukraine by the United Kingdom this week damaged unspecified civilian enterprises in Luhansk province in Ukraine’s far east. Luhansk authorities separately said another missile strike hit the regional capital, wounding an elderly woman.
Two Russian Mi-8 helicopters and an Su-34 fighter-bomber crashed Saturday in the Bryansk region bordering Ukraine, state news agency Tass and a Telegram channel close to the Russian defense ministry reported; the newspaper Kommersant cited reports of two fighter planes crashing. The causes of the crashes were not immediately disclosed, but concern in Bryansk is growing about cross-border attacks from Ukraine.
Some Ukrainian units continue to push forward near Bakhmut, the commander of Ukraine’s land forces said Saturday, just a day after Ukrainian commanders said their troops recaptured territory at the scene of the war’s longest and bloodiest battle. “Our soldiers are moving forward in some sectors of the front, and the enemy is losing equipment and manpower,” Oleksandr Syrskyi said on Telegram.
Zelenskyy also said that he asked the pope to condemn Russian “crimes in Ukraine” because “there can be no equality between the victim and the aggressor.”
“I also talked about our Peace Formula as the only effective algorithm for achieving a just peace,″ Zelenskyy said. Later, in an interview on Italian state TV, the Ukrainian leader said the pope ”knows my position. The war is in Ukraine, that is why it has to be Ukraine’s plan” to bring peace.
Zelenskyy’s 10-point plan would establish a special tribunal to prosecute Russian war crimes. It would also create a European-Atlantic security architecture with guarantees for Ukraine, restore Ukraine’s damaged power infrastructure and ensure safety around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia.
Earlier in the day, Zelenskyy received from Italian officials pledges of open-ended military and financial support as well as stronger backing for Ukraine’s cherished aim to join the European Union.
“The message is clear and simple,” Premier Giorgia Meloni said after a meeting with Zelenskyy that lasted more than an hour. “The future of Ukraine is a future of peace and freedom. And it’s the future of Europe, a future of peace and freedom, for which there are no other possible solutions.″
The premier, who staunchly supports military aid for Ukraine, said Italy would back the country “360 degrees for all the time necessary and beyond.”
Separately, Italian President Sergio Mattarella told Zelenskyy, “We are fully at your side,” Mattarella told Zelenskyy as he welcomed him. Later, presidential palace sources said Mattarella assured his guest that Italy would continue to support Ukraine militarily and financially, as well as with reconstruction and humanitarian aid.
Since the war began, Italy has contributed about 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in military and financial aid, as well as humanitarian assistance.
Zelenskyy is believed to be heading to Berlin next for what would be his first visit to Germany since the war began. The exact schedule was not publicly announced because of security concerns.
At the end of April, Francis told reporters that the Vatican was involved in a behind-the-scene peace mission but gave no details. Neither Russia nor Ukraine has confirmed such an initiative.
He has said he would like to go to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, if such a visit could be coupled with one to Moscow, in hopes a papal pilgrimage could further the cause of peace.
There has been speculation about whether the Vatican could play some mediating role. But in the Italian TV interview on Saturday, Zelenskyy indicated mediation in general would be impossible. “You can’t mediate with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,″ he said.
The German government, meanwhile, said it was providing Ukraine with additional military aid worth more than 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion), including tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition.✪