LONDON—The U.K. is considering sending advanced jets to Ukraine and will begin training Ukrainian pilots in coming months, a major victory for President
who made a surprise visit to European allies Wednesday to lobby Western governments to provide more air power to counter a growing Russian offensive.
Hours after Ukrainian leader Mr. Zelensky made an emotional plea to the British Parliament for more military aid, U.K. officials said that Prime Minister
had tasked his defense minister with analyzing which jets Britain may send, adding that no final decision had been made and that it could take a significant amount of time before pilots were fully trained.
The announcement is partly aimed at jolting other countries to follow the U.K.’s lead as the war in Ukraine reaches a critical juncture, officials say. The U.K. has been one of Ukraine’s most hawkish allies and has been at the forefront of a number of issues; it was the first to pledge modern battle tanks, a move followed by other allies in subsequent weeks. Last year, it was the first European nation to equip the Ukrainian army with antitank missiles.
If the U.K. goes ahead, it would be the first country to pledge to provide advanced Western jet fighters to Ukraine. Western governments have previously been nervous about providing jets, warning such a move could be escalatory as they could be used to hit targets inside Russia. The U.S. has ruled out sending F-16 jets.
U.S. Secretary of State
asked about the U.K. move, said the U.S. would continue to evaluate Ukraine’s needs on the battlefield, but would also gauge the ability of the Ukrainians to use weapons effectively, including training time, maintenance and strategy.
The U.K. is retiring around 20 Eurofighter Typhoons but handing them to Ukraine would require signoff from other European countries who helped develop the jet, and sourcing spare parts. Royal Air Force officials say that it could take four to six months to train an experienced pilot to fly a Typhoon and longer to train ground crew. A government spokesman said any British air support would likely only bolster Ukraine in the medium term.
On Wednesday, the Ukrainian leader made a rare foreign trip to meet Mr. Sunak and give a speech to the British Parliament. Later in the day, he met
King Charles III
and flew to Paris to meet French President Emmanuel Macron and German leader Olaf Scholz, who flew to the city for the meeting.
“We stand by Ukraine’s side, firmly, and with the determination to accompany it towards victory,” Mr. Macron said in a joint press conference with Messrs. Zelensky and Scholz at the Elysée palace.
Mr. Zelensky is then expected to travel to Brussels, where he is set to meet European Union leaders at a summit that starts on Thursday and speak at the European Parliament.
“We are intensifying our diplomacy,” Mr. Zelensky said.
The British government said earlier Wednesday it would also provide Ukraine with longer-range capabilities to strike Russian targets and train marines. Mr. Zelensky and Mr. Sunak discussed more broadly how best to defend Ukraine from Russian assaults and secure Kyiv’s military strength in the medium term, officials said.
Mr. Sunak told Parliament that the U.K. would help secure Ukraine “a decisive military victory on the battlefield this year.” After meeting with the British leader at Downing Street, Mr. Zelensky thanked Britain for its support and said its role was critical in defending not only Ukraine but the world from Russian aggression.
In a speech to a packed Westminster Hall, Mr. Zelensky thanked lawmakers “in advance, for powerful British planes” and urged the West to coalesce to help his country defeat Russia. Mr. Zelensky then gave the speaker of the House of Commons a fighter-pilot helmet inscribed with the message: “We have freedom. Give us wings to protect it.”
Other European countries such as France haven’t ruled out sending Western jets. Experts, however, have questioned whether giving jets to Ukraine can make a difference in the short-term, especially given long training times.
“The question is what is going to make a difference within a relative time frame,” says Jack Watling, a senior researcher at the think tank the Royal United Services Institute, noting that it could take years to provide Western air support.
Mr. Watling said that jets like Typhoons would prove difficult to manage and may require Ukraine to rebuild its runways to make them longer. Mr. Watling suggested the Gripen, a single-engine Swedish made fighter jet which can take off from a highway, could be a more practical option.
From the start of the war, successive U.K. leaders have sought to push the NATO alliance to provide additional—and more sophisticated—weaponry to help bring the conflict to a speedier conclusion. While the U.S. must worry about escalating the conflict when it supplies more arms, the same constraints don’t necessarily apply to Britain. “The U.K. can do things and the U.S. can keep distant from that,” Mr. Watling said.
The visit to London is only Mr. Zelensky’s second known visit abroad since the war started, after his visit to Washington and Poland last December to urge Congress and President Biden for more aid.
Mr. Zelensky’s trip was the result of some behind-the-scenes diplomatic jostling which seemed to speak to the divergent approaches that European capitals—London, Berlin, Paris and Brussels—have taken to Ukraine since the first days of the war.
European Council President
first pushed Mr. Zelensky to visit Brussels on a trip to Kyiv Jan. 19. At first Mr. Zelensky was wary given security concerns but later warmed to the idea, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Privately, said the diplomats, Mr. Zelensky’s team had approached Mr. Macron’s officials about a visit to Paris. The idea was initially to go to Paris first before visiting London and Brussels, said one of the diplomats. Despite the initial discussions, however, no invite from President
ever made it to Mr. Zelensky, they said.
Meanwhile, the British government, a strong supporter of Ukraine, seized on the idea and arrangements were made for Mr. Zelensky to visit King Charles III and speak to the British Parliament.
By Tuesday, Mr. Zelensky had arranged to fly to London first and then proceed straight to Brussels. As late as Wednesday morning, Ukrainian officials said there was no trip to Paris planned despite their efforts to set up a visit.
However, when Paris discovered that Mr. Zelensky was to be received with red carpet treatment in London over the past 24 hours, diplomats said, officials scrambled to arrange a stopover dinner.
French officials reached out on Wednesday to Berlin to see whether German Chancellor
who was speaking in parliament, could reschedule his plans and join the Paris meeting.
By the afternoon Mr. Macron’s and Mr. Scholz’ offices, so often the target of allied charges that they were too hesitant about throwing their full support behind Ukraine, confirmed the meeting.
French officials said that Mr. Macron is in constant touch with Mr. Zelensky and they have spoken several times over the past few weeks.
—Bojan Pancevski and Noemie Bisserbe contributed to this article.
Write to Max Colchester at Max.Colchester@wsj.com and Laurence Norman at email@example.com
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