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Sunak: We must act now so Ukraine can fight back

‘With every day that passes, Russian forces inflict yet more pain and suffering’

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Saturday 18 February 2023 16:05 GMT
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Rishi Sunak calls for West to 'double down' on Ukrainian support

Rishi Sunak says world leaders must arm Ukraine now so the country can “turn the tide” and win the war against Russia.

In a speech at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Mr Sunak said the West’s “collective efforts are making a difference”, but that “with every day that passes, Russia’s forces are inflicting yet more pain and suffering”.

The prime minister said that Ukraine needed military backing by allies to counter any spring offensive by Russian president Vladimir Putin’s troops.

But he argued the West must also start to put in place the foundations to strengthen Kyiv’s security in the long term. He told the Bavarian summit there was a need to “bolster” Kyiv’s armed forces immediately and to “double down” on the West’s backing for its defence against Russia’s invasion.

The intervention comes as the British government is investigating whether it could supply Ukraine with fighter jets, with Mr Sunak saying “nothing is off the table”.

Mr Sunak cited the provision of UK tanks and the decision to begin training Ukrainian pilots to fly Nato-standard fighter jets as an example of how Britain was playing its part.

But with one eye on the Nato summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July, he urged other Western leaders to commit to providing “Nato capabilities” for Ukraine’s armed forces to secure its borders for the future.

Mr Sunak told the summit: “Our collective efforts are making a difference but with every day that passes, Russian forces inflict yet more pain and suffering. Now the only way to change that is for Ukraine to win.”

He added: “We need to do more to boost Ukraine’s long-term security. We must give them the advanced, Nato-standard capabilities that they need for the future.

“And we must demonstrate that we’ll remain by their side, willing and able to help them defend their country again and again.”

He added: “We’ve got to be able to provide Ukraine with the means to fight back.”

The prime minister said the West has “no greater purpose” than to prove Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky right in saying Ukraine is marching towards the most important victory of our lifetime.

“What’s at stake in this war is even greater than the security and sovereignty of one nation. It’s about the security and sovereignty of every nation,” he said.

Rishi Sunak in Munich (AP)

“Because Russia’s invasion, its abhorrent war crimes and irresponsible nuclear rhetoric are symptomatic of a broader threat to everything we believe in.”

Mr Sunak also said securing a lasting peace would mean “upholding international law” and making Moscow pay reparations to Kyiv.

Speaking to the media after his speech, Mr Sunak said he wanted to see Western allies follow the UK’s lead in training Ukrainian pilots to fly advanced war planes.

“My message to everybody here is to join the UK in stepping up support to Ukraine, to double down on what we’re doing, because we’re at a pivotal moment in this conflict, where if we provide Ukraine with the extra means that they need, then they can turn the tide and liberate their country,” he said.

He added that it was “a pivotal moment” in Ukraine’s fight for freedom.

Others to speak at the summit on Saturday included US vice-president Kamala Harris and Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky pushed Rishi Sunak to supply jets to help win the war during a visit to the UK last week (PA Media)

Before his speech, Mr Sunak held bilateral talks with German chancellor Olaf Scholz. He also spoke with Ms Harris, along with the leaders of Poland, Sweden and Finland.

According to No 10, the prime minister “stressed the need for allies to think not just about securing peace in the short term, but about strengthening Ukraine’s long-term defences” during his conversation with Mr Scholz.

Downing Street says £2.3bn of UK military support was given to Ukraine in 2022 – including a squadron of advanced Challenger 2 tanks, 200 other armoured vehicles, and more than 10,000 anti-tank missiles and multiple-launch rocket systems.

Mr Sunak has previously said that he wants the support provided in 2023 to exceed that level. The UK will begin training Ukrainian pilots in the spring in a bid to bolster Kyiv’s air-power capabilities.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky visited London, Paris and Brussels last week to make the case for the West to send planes to boost his air force. But the UK is relatively short on multi-role fighter jets, having retired its Tornado GR4 planes four years ago to save money.

Defence experts say that other jets, such as the F-35 Lightning and Eurofighter Typhoon, may not be suitable because of their highly complex supply chains and maintenance requirements.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace said earlier this week that he did not expect jets from the UK to be deployed in the next few months “or even years”, adding that a fleet of fighter jets would involve “hundreds of engineers and pilots”.

The US is the largest supplier of military aid to Ukraine, providing around $29bn (£24bn) worth of assistance since the invasion began. The UK is the second-largest donor.

Speaking on the first day of the Munich conference on Friday, German chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany would soon be able to deploy its first batch of Leopard tanks to Ukraine.

Mr Scholz approved the deployment of 88 of the tanks earlier this month, following criticism from allies that Germany was not doing enough to help.

The first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is fast approaching, with a minute’s silence expected to be held across the UK at 11am on Friday 24 February.

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