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Sunak, in Kyiv, unveils ‘unprecedented’ aid package for Ukraine

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a new multibillion-dollar aid package for Ukraine during a surprise visit to Kyiv on Friday, and pledged London’s support for a decade. The promise came at a crucial time for Ukraine as its allies in Brussels and Washington struggle to secure funding while Russia bolsters its weapon stockpiles and the ranks of its armed forces. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the “unprecedented” 10-year security cooperation agreement as well as the £2.5 billion ($3.2 billion) in new military aid earmarked for 2024. “Today marks a watershed moment in European history,” Zelensky told reporters at a joint appearance with Sunak in Kyiv. The aid includes a wide range of arms and ammunition that are in short supply in Ukraine — such as artillery shells and drones — nearly two years into the grinding war. Sunak urged other Western countries to double-down on their Ukraine support. “If (Russian President Vladimir) Putin wins in Ukraine, he will not stop there, and our opponents around the world believe that we have neither the patience nor resources for long wars — so waver now and we embolden not just Putin but his allies in North Korea, Iran and elsewhere,” he said. – ‘Embolden’ Putin – The UK package will include “more air-defence equipment, more anti-tank weapons, more long-range missiles, thousands of rounds more of ammunition and artillery shells,” Sunak added. London will also train “thousands more Ukrainian servicemen,” he said, and allocate £200 million to build thousands more drones — “the single largest package of drones given to Ukraine by any nation”. The aid came as Ukraine has warned it is in dire need of air-defence capabilities to fend off increased aerial attacks. Sunak said the UK believed that Ukraine should be in NATO at a time when Kyiv has expressed frustration that it has not received sufficient security guarantees from the US-led defence alliance. “You belong in NATO and NATO will be stronger with you,” Sunak said. Zelensky said that if Ukraine had been given security guarantees — like the 10-year pledge of support — after the breakup of the Soviet Union, “there would have been no Russian aggression at all”. Sunak had earlier said his trip was intended to “send a strong signal of support to the Ukrainian people”. Putin, he added, “needs to recognise we’re not going anywhere”. – ‘Great courage’ – The British leader’s visit came as Ukraine officials said Russian shelling had killed two people in the southern city of Kherson. “A woman died on the spot,” said Kherson’s regional head Oleksandr Prokudin, adding that a “burnt body was also found in a car”. Sunak met with emergency service workers in Kyiv responding to the aftermath of Russian air strikes, which have intensified since late December, and praised Ukrainian “courage”. The latest commitment takes the UK’s overall support for Ukraine’s war efforts to nearly £12 billion. British equipment already supplied to Kyiv includes Storm Shadow cruise missiles and a squadron of Challenger 2 tanks. Back in November, UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron also vowed to maintain military support for Ukraine, during his own visit to Kyiv. Zelensky said at the time that the flow of artillery ammunition from Western allies had dropped since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas in October. – French backing – Meanwhile, France’s new foreign minister Stephane Sejourne is on his way to Kyiv to meet Zelensky and pledge Paris’s continued support, his office said Friday. And France’s Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu will receive his Ukrainian counterpart Rustem Umerov in Paris next Thursday, his office announced. They will discuss how best to reinforce Kyiv’s artillery capacity, the statement said. Moscow meanwhile announced that it had placed renowned Russian writer Boris Akunin on its list of foreign agents over his opposition to what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine. Akunin, who now lives in exile, has been a frequent critic of Putin. He left Russia after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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