Tories hit back at 'blustering' Putin's threats over jets for Ukraine

Tories hit back at 'blustering' Putin's threats over jets for Ukraine

Tories hit back at ‘blustering’ Putin’s threats over jets for Ukraine: Ministers are warned that giving Zelensky ‘tools’ to finish the war this summer is the best way to avoid Russian escalation… but experts question if UK Typhoons are best option

  • President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded for aircraft during visit to Britain 
  • But Russian Embassy in London has warned UK against supplying warplanes

Tories hit back at ‘blustering’ Vladimir Putin today after he threatened a ‘response’ if the UK supplies fighter jets to Ukraine.

Ministers have been warned that while they need to take Russian sabre-rattling ‘seriously’ the best way of avoiding escalation is to give Kyiv the ‘tools’ to end the war.

Volodymyr Zelensky delivered an emotional appeal for Western aircraft yesterday as he made his first visit to Britain since the invasion last year.

The plea was backed by Boris Johnson among others – but while Rishi Sunak has announced that the UK will start training Ukrainian pilots he cautioned that it will take time before they could operate the RAF’s Typhoons or F35s.

Experts have suggested that there are practical reasons why the Swedish Grippen jet might be a better option for Kyiv’s efforts to repel Russian forces. 

However, the Russian Embassy in London has warned that if Britain goes ahead it would bear responsibility ‘for another twist of escalation and the ensuing military-political consequences for the European continent and the entire world’.

Tory MP Bob Seely, a member of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, told MailOnline that Russian threats had to be ‘taken seriously’. 

But he added: ‘A lot of what Putin says is clearly bluster designed to break the umbilical bond between Ukraine and its Western allies.

‘We should not be swayed by Russian threats but we do need to be mindful of them. My worry is that at a certain point a desperate Putin will seek to dangerously escalate this war.

‘For me the least dangerous course of action is to give Ukraine the tools to do the job this summer. There are no good options, but everything else is worse. Anything that prolongs the war increases the risk of escalation by the Russians.

‘I suspect the Russians are blustering but we need to make sure our defences are robust, whether that is cyber, the protection of our physical infrastructure or British interests around the world.

‘Unfortunately we have cut down on defence too much in the last 20-25 years.’

President Volodymyr Zelensky and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrive to meet Ukrainian troops being trained to command Challenger 2 tanks at a military facility in Lulworth, Dorset

Moscow has threatened a ‘response’ if the Government does supply planes. Pictured: Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with the secretaries of the security councils of several countries on the Afghan problem at the Kremlin

Britain has offered to train Ukrainian fighter pilots on top of an existing programme that has already prepared 10,000 troops for battle. 

Mr Johnson has urged the UK to offer all its fighter jets and tanks, saying that countering Russian aggression was the ‘best use’ for the UK’s 100 Typhoon jets and similar stocks of Challenger tanks. 

At a joint press conference with Mr Zelensky last night, Mr Sunak cautioned that it will take ‘some time’ to train Ukrainian fighter pilots. 

But he denied there was any reticence, adding: ‘Throughout this conflict we have been out in front.’ 

He said it was important Ukraine pilots can ‘actually operate the aircraft that they will be using’.

At a joint press conference with Volodymyr Zelensky following a tour of a training base for troops in Dorset, Rishi Sunak said the West must ‘arm Ukraine in the short term’ and ‘bolster’ it in the long-term

Mr Zelensky enjoyed a ceremony-filled day in London, where he also met King Charles and addressed parliament.

Dressed in his usual green fatigues, he received waves of applause as he made a historic address to both the lower and upper houses of parliament on what was only his second overseas trip since the war began.

He said: ‘I appeal to you and the world… for combat aircrafts for Ukraine, wings for freedom.’

No10 said Mr Sunak had tasked Defence Secretary Ben Wallace with ‘investigating what jets we might be able to give but, to be clear, this is a long-term solution rather than a short-term capability’.

In the meantime, the new UK training will ‘ensure pilots are able to fly sophisticated Nato-standard fighter jets in the future’.

Speaking alongside Mr Zelensky in front of a British tank, the PM said ‘nothing is off the table’ for Ukraine – including fighter-combat aircraft.

‘Of course they are part of the conversation’, he said, but held back from giving a concrete commitment to provide fighter planes.

Mr Zelensky said fighter jets had been discussed and reiterated his call for longer-range missiles.

He added: ‘I didn’t even know it takes three years to train a pilot like that.

‘Come on, we will be sending you pilots who have already trained for two and a half-years.’ 

After dining with Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Sholz in France overnight, Mr Zelensky is meeting EU leaders in Brussels today.

Pushed on whether the UK would provide jets, Rishi Sunak said ‘nothing is off the table’ and stressed Britain is now going to start preparing the Ukrainian air force

While the UK operates F-35 and Typhoon jets, the older F-16s widely used by other Nato states are seen by many as a better option and easier to deploy.

However, a UK decision to offer planes would be symbolically important and put pressure on other countries to follow suit.

Mr Zelensky told the press conference last night: ‘You’ve just asked me what would happen if we don’t get these fighter jets or longer-range missiles, or we don’t have enough ammunition, because everything obviously is running out and coming out of maintenance.

‘Without the weapons that we are discussing now and the weapons that we just discussed with Rishi earlier today and how Britain is going to help us, you know, all of this is very important. Without this, there would be stagnation which will not bring to anything good.’

Mr Seely said the UK’s Typhoon and F-35 are ‘not necessarily a practical option for the Ukrainians’.

‘A much better bet is the Swedish Grippen, which is designed to be used by conscript soldiers. Ukraine is being forced to use roads as runways,’ he said.

‘The Grippen is much more versatile… it is the plane of choice for the Ukrainians.’

Discussions are taking place over supplying the Harpoon anti-ship missiles – which have a range of 150 miles – to Ukraine. 

Storm Shadow air-to-surface cruise missiles, with a range of 250 miles, are also said to be on the table. 

There have been tensions between Mr Zelensky and both Mr Macron and Mr Scholz over the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the ongoing war.

A diplomatic source in Paris said: ‘Mr Zelensky was due to touch down at Orly airport before 9pm, and then get to the Elysee for the dinner, but clearly there is a delay.

‘Security staff and other officials are still waiting for the plane. When Mr Zelensky finally arrives, he will be escorted to the Elysee.’

As a Republican Honour Guard waited for Mr Zelensky’s plane, a red carpet was laid out on the Oly runway, and the soldiers marched around it to keep warm.

Despite this, there was still no sign of Mr Zelensky when Mr Scholz arrived at the Elysee just before 9.30pm. 

Mr Scholz has said Germany would not be drawn into a ‘public bidding war’ over military support for Ukraine, The Telegraph reports.

The German Chancellor has repeatedly rebuffed pleas from Ukraine to supply fighter jets, following criticism over the time it took for him to give the green light for the provision of tanks.

Instead, speaking in parliament, he accused his critics of engaging in ‘a public bidding war according to the principle of battle tanks, submarines, battleships: who can offer more. Germany won’t get involved.’  

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