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Ukraine live briefing: Zelensky in surprise trip to London as U.K. hails ‘unbreakable friendship’

Updated February 8, 2023 at 10:15 a.m. EST|Published February 8, 2023 at 2:10 a.m. EST

King Charles III shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at Buckingham Palace in London ahead of an audience during Zelensky’s first visit to Britain since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Aaron Chown/POOL/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the United Kingdom for its support in a speech to the British Parliament on Wednesday while making a fresh appeal for military aircraft. “I will leave Parliament thanking all of you in advance for powerful English planes,” he said to laughter and applause.

Zelensky then made his way to Buckingham Palace, where he is meeting with King Charles III on Wednesday afternoon local time. His surprise visit to Britain is his second trip out of Ukraine since Russia’s invasion nearly a year ago — he spoke to a joint meeting of Congress in Washington in December. Zelensky is set to head Wednesday evening to Paris, where he will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the French Embassy in Washington confirmed.

Ukraine has appealed to Western countries for advanced weapons, including fighter jets, to turn the tide of the conflict, buoyed by recent decisions from its allies to supply Ukraine with tanks. Britain has pledged to help train fighter pilots and marines and has offered 14 Challenger 2 tanks, although it has not promised any military aircraft.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is in Washington for meetings with top national security officials from the Biden administration, where they will discuss defense assistance for Ukraine.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

  • “We know Russia will lose. We really know the victory will change the world, a change that the world has long needed,” Zelensky added during his address at London’s Westminster Hall. He thanked the United Kingdom — and former British prime minister Boris Johnson — for coming to Ukraine’s aid, saying: “London has stood with Kyiv since day one.” Zelensky may also visit Brussels on Thursday to meet with European Union leaders, according to various media outlets.
  • Zelensky also met with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at 10 Downing Street earlier in the day. Sunak called Zelensky’s trip “a testament to his country’s courage, determination and fight, and a testament to the unbreakable friendship between our two countries,” in a statement issued by his office.
  • The U.K. government announced a fresh round of sanctions targeting Russian military and Kremlin elites on Wednesday as Zelensky arrived in London. “These new sanctions accelerate the economic pressure on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin — undermining his war machine to help Ukraine prevail,” Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said.
  • Dutch prosecutors implicated Putin in the 2014 downing of a Malaysian passenger jet that killed 298. They said Wednesday that it was likely Putin personally signed off on a decision to supply long-range antiaircraft missiles systems to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine before they shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014. However, the prosecutors said that while they had documented “strong indications” of Putin’s personal role in the decision, their evidence “was not concrete enough” for a new prosecution.
  • Stoltenberg will meet with senior Biden administration officials in Washington on Wednesday, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan. He will also meet with members of Congress. They will discuss “support for Ukraine’s self-defense against Russia’s aggression,” a NATO official said. Ukraine is a partner, but not a member, of NATO — while Finland and Sweden have applied to join the alliance following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark will provide Ukraine with at least 100 Leopard 1A5 tanks along with training and logistics support, the nations’ defense ministers said in a statement. The announcement complements plans to deliver more advanced Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine by March.
  • President Biden reiterated U.S. support for Ukraine during his State of the Union address Tuesday, calling Russia’s invasion “a test for America” and the world. Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, was present at the event, representing “not just her nation, but the courage of her people,” Biden said.
  • Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, spoke with Blinken about new military aid and fresh sanctions on Russia, Kuleba said on Twitter, adding: “Russia would be making a grave mistake if it thought anyone would get tired of fighting the evil it brings.”
  • Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said she favors banning Russian athletes from the 2024 Paris Olympics if the war in Ukraine does not end. Hidalgo told public broadcasting service Franceinfo that she is not in favor of the neutral-banner rule that the International Olympic Committee imposed and does not want to spotlight a country that is attacking another.
  • A new offensive by Russia is likely to include the northeastern region of Kharkiv and the southern Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine’s national security chief, Oleksiy Danilov, told Reuters on Tuesday. “How successful they’ll be will depend on us,” he said. A Russia offensive is expected by many as the war reaches its first anniversary later this month.
  • The Russian military may be rushing to launch an offensive to capture the Donetsk region “in an unrealistic timeframe,” the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War think tank said Tuesday. The ISW said the Kremlin was unlikely to have the combat power necessary for the push, citing a British Defense Ministry assessment that said Russian forces have gained only several hundred meters of territory per week.
  • The State Department has “made a determination approving” the potential sale of $10 billion in artillery rocket systems to Poland, a NATO ally that shares a border with Ukraine. If it goes through, the deal would include 18 HIMARS launchers and long-range ammunition that Kyiv has repeatedly requested but the United States has not provided out of concern that Russia could see the move as a significant escalation of U.S. involvement.

4. From our correspondents

66,000 war crimes have been reported in Ukraine. It vows to prosecute them all: The number of alleged war crimes in Ukraine climbs every day, with investigators logging thousands of complaints, ranging from property theft to torture.

The numbers are staggering, Liz Sly reports, but the war in Ukraine represents an unparalleled opportunity to test the evolving international justice system that began to take shape after World War II.

As for Ukraine’s motivation, Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said, “We have to win in both battles — in the fight for our territory and in the fight for justice.”

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