The Ukrainian president has praised Britain’s efforts to train its military amid allegations that Britain blocked requests to strengthen Kyiv’s defenses after Russia’s first attack eight years ago.
Volodymyr Zelensky told a news conference in Kiev that Britain, along with the United States, provided “the greatest military assistance” in its fight against Moscow’s invading forces.
In a phone call earlier on Saturday, he personally thanked Boris Johnson for giving Britain training at home, where Ukraine’s armed forces were taught how to use armored vehicles given to increase war effort in Eastern Europe.
But it comes as a former defense minister accused previous Downing Street operations of being reluctant to support Kiev in the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Michael Fallon told The Sunday Times that while serving under former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, he was told to turn down requests for help in upgrading Ukraine’s defense, despite the Ministry of Defense wanting to “do more”.
“We were prevented and we were blocked in the Cabinet from sending the Ukrainians the weapons they needed,” Mr Fallon told the newspaper.
“Some in the government felt extremely strongly that we should do nothing to provoke Russia further.
‘I felt it was absurd. The Russians needed no provocation. They were already there, sending people across the border. “
In the run-up to and during the current incursion, London has proven to be one of Ukraine’s closest allies in terms of supplying weapons in the NATO class.
Sir. Zelensky expressed his gratitude in a conversation with the Prime Minister on Saturday and during a press conference in his country’s capital.
Asked during a briefing on military support from the West, he told reporters: “We want more than we get, but we are satisfied.
“We can not deny or deny anything during the war from the largest military aid coming from the United States and Britain.
“There are many other friends in Europe, but I’m talking about lots of help, and I’m grateful for that.”
Sir. Zelensky also announced that he will hold talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Kiev on Sunday – a meeting that takes place more than two weeks after Mr Johnson made a similar trip to the East.
When the Prime Minister was on a trade trip to India last week, he revealed that Ukrainian forces were in Britain as part of British efforts to support territorial defense.
More than 20 soldiers arrived last week to train on 120 armored vehicles, including the Mastiff, Wolfhound and Husky, which are being delivered to help withstand Moscow’s progress.
The battle for the Donbas in eastern Ukraine continues to rage, but on Saturday also saw new attacks in the south, with a missile attack in Odesa killing a three-month-old baby and five other people.
In the besieged port city of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said Russian forces launched an offensive on a steelworks in an apparent attempt to eliminate the last stand of Kyiv defenders.
It is estimated that 1,000 civilians will remain sheltered in the Azovstal facility along with the remaining 2,000 Ukrainian fighters.
Putin ordered just two days ago that Russian troops should not be sent into the facility, but instead that the facility should be cordoned off, in an apparent attempt to starve the Ukrainians and force their surrender.
In footage shared online of the conditions in Azovstal, a young girl said she and her relatives “have not seen either the sky or the sun” since leaving home on February 27, fearing that food supplies are about to run out after the two-month siege.
During Mr Johnson and Mr Zelensky’s telephone conversation, No. 10 said both leaders agreed to condemn the Russian forces’ attacks on civilian targets in Mariupol and Odesa, as well as in the western part of the country in Lviv.