UK pledges new military assistance to Ukraine after PM’s surprise visit to Kyiv


By Sarah Dean and Ivana Kottasova, CNN

(CNN) – The United Kingdom will send 120 armored vehicles and new anti-ship missile systems to Ukraine, Downing Street announced on Saturday, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid an in-person visit to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Johnson and Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer paid separate visits to Zelensky on Saturday, the latest in a series of leaders to visit the country during the ongoing Russian invasion.

A photograph tweeted by the Ukrainian Embassy in the UK showed Johnson seated across from Zelensky at a table in a pink and green stucco room. The post was captioned with the word “Surprise” and a blinking face emoji.

The National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine’s press service said on its official Twitter account that the two leaders held talks in Kyiv, posting several photos of the couple’s unannounced meeting.

Johnson posted on Twitter that his visit to Kyiv was “a demonstration of our unwavering support for the Ukrainian people” and announced a new financial and military aid package.

“Ukraine defied odds and pushed Russian forces back from the gates of kyiv, achieving the greatest feat of arms of the 21st century,” the British prime minister said in a statement.

He hailed Zelensky’s “resolute leadership” and the “invincible heroism and courage of the Ukrainian people”, adding that the UK “stands unwaveringly by their side in this ongoing fight…we are in it for the long term”.

At the press conference, Johnson said the UK would continue to step up sanctions against Russia. Johnson also said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions had dealt a “deep blow” to his reputation and to the Russian government.

“We will influence Russia’s ability to use its energy resources,” he added. “War determines Ukraine’s vision of the future, so our partners and I will provide Ukraine with equipment, technology, intelligence so that Ukraine will never face the horrors of invasion and blackmailing.”

After the meeting, Downing Street said the British government would provide armored vehicles and anti-ship missile systems, “in addition to the £100 million worth of high-quality military equipment” announced on Friday.

Zelensky and Nehammer’s meeting was separate from the one with Johnson and took place earlier on Saturday, according to Zelensky’s official Telegram channel.

While several other leaders have visited Ukraine in recent weeks, Nehammer’s trip is significant given his country’s neutral status, enshrined in its constitution.

Austria is not part of NATO and does not supply arms to Ukraine. It has, however, provided Ukraine with humanitarian aid as well as helmets and protective vests for civilian use, according to a statement from the Austrian Chancellery.

Nehammer said on Saturday that while his country is militarily neutral, “we understand that we have to help where injustice and war crimes are taking place.”

According to his office, Nehammer was due to meet Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, before returning to Austria on Saturday evening.

Nehammer was also due to travel to the kyiv suburb of Bucha, which endured five weeks of near-constant firefights; after Russian forces withdrew from the city, the bodies of at least 20 civilians were found lying in a street, some with their hands tied.

Nehammer said Bucha was “a place of war crimes”.

“We must bring these war crimes to the attention of the UN, and international justice must begin to investigate and combat these crimes,” he said during a press conference with Zelensky.

Johnson and Nehammer’s twin visits came a day after senior European Union officials visited Ukraine. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Josep Borrell, the bloc’s top diplomat, traveled to Kyiv and Bucha on Friday, alongside Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger.

During the visit, von der Leyen ceremoniously handed Zelensky an EU questionnaire to fill out – a symbolic but important step towards Ukraine’s joining the bloc. Tweeting about the decision, von der Leyen said: “We will speed up this process as much as possible, while ensuring that all conditions are met.”

The prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia visited kyiv last month, at a time when it was still regularly the target of Russian strikes. Like Johnson’s visit on Saturday, that trip was kept secret until the three leaders were in the country, traveling on a train from eastern Ukraine.

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