PM and G7 leaders pledge ‘unwavering’ support as Ukraine invasion marked
Rishi Sunak and his fellow world leaders have pledged to stand with Ukraine for as long as needed, after a year of war that has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions more displaced.
Earlier, the Prime Minister led the UK in a minute’s silence to mark the one-year anniversary of the war, as the world reflected on the conflict initiated by Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion last February.
A call on Friday afternoon saw Mr Sunak join fellow leaders, including US President Joe Biden, to discuss the war effort and how best to support Ukraine going forward.
In a joint statement, G7 leaders committed to intensifying “diplomatic, financial and military support for Ukraine” as well as “increasing the costs to Russia and those supporting its war effort”.
They also pledged that “solidarity will never waver in standing with Ukraine, in supporting countries and people in need, and in upholding the international order based on the rule of law”.
According to a Downing Street readout, Mr Sunak urged allies to “support Ukraine with long-term military and security assurances to send a strong message to President Putin that the global support was enduring”.
Outside No 10 on Friday morning, the Prime Minister had been joined by his wife Akshata Murthy, Kyiv’s ambassador to Britain Vadym Prystaiko and dozens of Ukrainian troops being trained by the UK for the national pause on Friday morning.
The King also issued a message praising the “remarkable courage and resilience” of the Ukrainian people.
To give Kyiv a “decisive advantage”, Britain was trying to revive plans to provide eastern European allies with fighter jets so they can release their Soviet-era planes to Ukraine.
Britain also announced a new package of sanctions, imposing an export ban on every piece of equipment Russia has been found using on the battlefield in Ukraine.
When Mr Putin launched his renewed invasion of Ukraine on February 24 last year, many believed his military might would capture Kyiv within weeks or even days.
But the Ukrainian resistance led by President Volodymyr Zelensky and assisted by the weapons and support provided by allies, including Britain, repelled the invasion to the east.
At least 100,000 of each side’s soldiers are estimated to have been killed or injured, thousands more civilians have died and more than 13 million people have been made refugees or displaced inside Ukraine.
Stand united. #StandWithUkraine pic.twitter.com/iOdH303RYd
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) February 24, 2023
On Friday, Mr Zelensky vowed Ukraine will do everything in its power to defeat the invasion before another anniversary can be marked.
“It was a year of resilience. A year of care. A year of bravery. A year of pain. A year of hope. A year of endurance. A year of unity,” he said in a national address.
“The year of invincibility. The furious year of invincibility. Its main result is that we endured. We were not defeated. And we will do everything to gain victory this year.”
Britain will be training Ukrainian pilots on Nato-standard jets but allies have been reluctant to release the modern warplanes requested by the Ukrainian president.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said backfilling allies with the UK’s jets to free up their own would be a quicker way to bolster Kyiv’s defences than providing them with British Typhoons.
Mr Wallace told Times Radio “the other quick way that Ukraine can benefit from fighter jets is for those countries in Europe that have Russian Soviet fighter jets – MiG 29s or Su-24s – if they wish to donate we can use our fighter jets to backfill and provide security for them as a result”.
“They are already configured to fight in a Nato way, where of course Ukraine isn’t,” he said.
Mr Wallace said the Russian army was suffering “huge losses” on the battlefield for territorial gain measured “in metres not miles” and will sacrifice a growing number of troops to satisfy Mr Putin’s demands.
On February 24, millions of us made a choice. Not a white flag, but the blue and yellow one. Not fleeing, but facing. Resisting & fighting. It was a year of pain, sorrow, faith, and unity. And this year, we remained invincible. We know that 2023 will be the year of our victory! pic.twitter.com/oInWvssjOI
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) February 24, 2023
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly announced the internationally co-ordinated new package of sanctions and warned the failing Russian president will “probably threaten nuclear use”.
Export bans have been extended to include hundreds of goods, including aircraft parts, radio equipment and electronic components that can be used by the Russian military industrial complex.
The UK also sanctioned senior executives at the Russian state-owned nuclear power company Rosatom, as well as bosses at Russia’s two largest defence companies and four banks.
Addressing the UN Security Council in New York, Mr Cleverly said that Mr Putin would attempt to intimidate Ukraine’s allies in his bid for “imperial expansion”, as the conflict drags on.
He added: “His land grabs in eastern and southern Ukraine show us that his heart is set on imperial expansion. But 800 Russian soldiers a day are dying for his hopeless ambitions.
“They are paying for his ego with their lives. As he sees that his aggression against Ukraine is failing, we should expect him to try and strongarm us into backing down with every dirty, coercive instrument at his disposal.”
Charles, who hosted Mr Zelensky at Buckingham Palace earlier this month, said that Ukraine has “shown truly remarkable courage and resilience” while suffering “unimaginably from an unprovoked full-scale attack on their nation”.
“It is heartening that the United Kingdom, along with its allies, is doing everything possible to help at this most difficult time,” the King said in his message.
“Therefore, I can only hope the outpouring of solidarity from across the globe may bring not only practical aid, but also strength from the knowledge that, together, we stand united.”
The UK remains a prominent supporter of Kyiv, with the Government announcing earlier this year that Britain would be the first country to supply tanks to its armed forces.
But fears remain that the war could continue for at least another year, even as Ukraine insists that further support and weaponry can help bring the conflict to a conclusion.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that the country’s support “is as firm and unstinting today as it was on that dark day one year ago”.
“As we mark this solemn anniversary and look ahead to the coming months, we must do the same. Regardless of what other political disagreements we may have, we stand in lockstep with the Government on this issue,” he said.
Former Labour leader Sir Tony Blair lent his support to calls for Ukraine to receive the much-desired jets.
He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme that “if that’s what Ukraine needs” then support should include jets.
He added: “They have to be given what is necessary for them to defend themselves. But the single biggest thing they are going to need is munitions and artillery.”