New UK PM Sunak visits Kyiv, pledges support - GulfToday

British PM Sunak makes surprise trip to Kyiv, promises new air defence package


Volodymyr Zelensky and Rishi Sunak visit the Memory Wall of Fallen Defenders of Ukraine in Kyiv on Saturday. Reuters

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised 125 anti-aircraft guns and other air-defence technology as he made an unannounced visit Saturday - his first - to Ukraine's snow-blanketed war-time capital for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The air-defence package, which Britain valued at £50 million ($60 million), comes as Russia has been pounding Ukraine's power grid and other key infrastructure from the air, causing widespread blackouts for millions of Ukrainians amid frigid weather.

The package includes radar and other technology to counter that Iran-supplied exploding drones that Russia has used against Ukrainian targets. It comes on top of a delivery of more than 1,000 anti-air missiles that Britain announced earlier this month.

The UK has been one of the staunchest Western backers of Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s invasion. Speaking alongside Zelensky, Sunak noted that the UK has given £2.3 billion ($2.7 billion) in military aid and pledged: "We will do the same again next year.”

"Your homes, your hospitals, your power stations are being destroyed," Sunak said in announcing the new air-defence package. "You and your people are paying a heavy price in blood.”

Sunak-Zelensky Volodymyr Zelensky embraces Rishi Sunak during his visit in Kyiv. Reuters 

Speaking through a translator, Zelensky said Russian strikes have damaged around half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

As snowflakes fell, Zelensky greeted Sunak at a presidential palace for their talks. He called the two countries "the strongest of allies.” Walking in the snow, they also inspected captured Russian tanks and other destroyed and rusting military hardware used by the invasion forces that are displayed in a Kyiv square.

"With friends like you by our side, we are confident in our victory. Both of our nations know what it means to stand up for freedom,” the Ukrainian leader said on Twitter.

Former UK prime minister Boris Johnson, who stepped down in July amid ethics scandals, won wide praise in Ukraine for his backing and made repeated visits to Kyiv. Sunak is keen to reassure Ukraine’s leaders that there will be no change of stance under his leadership, although when he was UK Treasury chief under Johnson he was considered resistant to demands for higher defense spending.

SunakZelensky-Kiyv Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Rishi Sunak visit at an exhibition displaying destroyed Russian military vehicles in Kyiv. Reuters 

"It is deeply humbling to be with you in your country today. The courage of the Ukrainian people is an inspiration to the world," Sunak told his host. "In years to come, we will tell our grandchildren of your story.”

He pledged that Britain "will stand with you until Ukraine has won the peace and security it needs and deserves and then we will stand with you as you rebuild your great country.”

Sunak also laid flowers at a memorial for the war dead, lit a candle at a memorial for victims of a deadly Soviet-era famine in Ukraine in the 1930s, and met first responders at a fire station, his office said.

Associated Press

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