Zelensky praises Boris Johnson in historic speech to UK Parliament – Politico

LONDON – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised Boris Johnson as he delivered a historic address to the UK Parliament on a rare visit outside his country.

Zelensky is speaking to an audience of MPs, peers and journalists at Westminster Hall, the medieval heart of the British Parliament, as Kyiv braces for an expected Russian attack.

He said Britain had “extended your helping hand” when the world still didn’t know how to respond to Russia’s attack, and paid personal tribute to Johnson, the former UK prime minister who was prominent in the audience gathered to watch Zelenskiy’s speech. “Boris, you brought others together when it seemed absolutely impossible,” he said.

Zelensky told those gathered that he was “for every brave soldier here in the trenches, for every defender in the sky, for our people who are fighting to reclaim our borders, our workers who are now training – including here, in Britain – thank you Britain.”

Referring to his first visit to London in 2020, when he sat in British wartime leader Winston Churchill’s armchair, Zelensky said: “I definitely felt something — but only now know what the feeling was. It’s a feeling that bravery gives you through the most unimaginable hardships and finally rewards you with victory.”

Only a handful of leaders have given such a speech in Westminster Hall in the past 30 years, including Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama and, most recently, King Charles III.

Ukraine’s president arrived on a Royal Air Force plane for a visit to an airport north of London that remained closely guarded as of Wednesday morning.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak greeted him on the tarmac, to tweet A picture of the couple hugging.

It is Zelensky’s first visit to the UK since Russia’s invasion nearly a year ago and his second confirmed trip outside Ukraine during the war, following a visit to the US.

The Ukrainian leader is also expected to travel to Brussels later this week, although a question mark has been raised over his visit after the plans were leaked on Monday.

Zelensky held talks with Sunak in Downing Street before speaking in Westminster, as Britain announced new training programs for fighter pilots and marines.

Ahead of their meeting, Sunak announced that the UK would now train pilots to operate NATO-standard fighter jets as well as naval forces. It comes alongside an expansion of UK training Ukrainian recruits from 10,000 to 20,000 troops this year.

Zelensky arrives at Westminster Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament

In a sign of Westminster’s broad cross-party consensus on Ukraine, Labor leader Kier Starmer said on Wednesday that his opposition party “not only expects Ukraine to win, we believe in its victory.”

Zelensky has previously called on allies to send jets to Ukraine, although others, including the UK, have warned that providing British fighter jets would not be practical.

Kyiv may seek Western commitments of more advanced weapons ahead of possible spring offensives by both Russia and Ukraine.

The Ukrainian leader will also meet King Charles III and UK military chiefs during his visit.

Sunak said he was “proud” to announce today’s expanded program and that it “underlines our commitment not just to providing military equipment in the short term, but to a long-term commitment to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine for years to come.”

Before Sunak took office, Zelensky had forged a bond with Johnson, who had been Ukraine’s most vocal supporter as prime minister. Sunak has pledged to maintain the UK’s support since taking office in October.

Sunak and Zelensky in Downing Street Pool photo by Dan Kitwood via Getty Images

Zelensky previously addressed the UK parliament remotely last March, two weeks after the invasion began, echoing Winston Churchill’s famous “never surrender” speech. He vowed that Ukrainians “will fight to the end at sea, in the air. We will continue to fight for our land, no matter what.”

Hopes are rising in Brussels that Ukraine’s leader may also make his first visit to EU institutions since the war began.

Leaders of the 27-nation bloc will gather for a summit in Brussels on Thursday, enabling Zelensky to meet all major leaders in one day.

The visit to London came as Russian forces bombarded areas of eastern Ukraine with more artillery bombardment, Ukrainian officials said Wednesday, in what Kyiv authorities believe is part of a new push by the Kremlin’s forces ahead of the anniversary of the attack.

This is being updated with developing news.