The United Kingdom will begin supplying military helicopters to the Ukrainian forces as a part of the latest aid package greenlit by Prime Minsiter Rishi Sunak, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace revealed.
In a major development in the level of support for the Ukrainians against the Russian invaders, the British will for the first time be sending manned aircraft in the form of three anti-submarine Sea King helicopters. This comes on top of the ten thousand rounds of artillery shells and 125 anti-aircraft guns pledged by Rishi Sunak during his surprise meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv (Kiev) over the weekend, and over 1,000 anti-air missiles promised last month.
Announcing the plans from a meeting of European defence ministers in Norway on Wednesday, Ben Wallace said that it was the first time that the UK will send piloted military aircraft since the full-scale Russian invasion was renewed in February, The Telegraph reported.
Commenting on the latest aid package, the Defence Secretary said: “Our support for Ukraine is unwavering… These additional artillery rounds will help Ukraine to secure the land it has reclaimed from Russia in recent weeks.”
Outside of the United States, the UK government has been one of the most active supporters of the war effort in Ukraine, having spent £2.3 billion ($2.7 billion) in military aid to the country over the past ten months, alone. Despite the growing cost of living crisis at home as well as his government’s decision to raise taxes to the highest level since the Second World War, Prime Minister Sunak said that his government will “do the same again next year” in terms of military aid packages.
The PM said that Britain “will stand with you until Ukraine has won the peace and security it needs and deserves and then we will stand with you as you rebuild your great country.”
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In the shipment of the Sea King helicopters, the UK will join the United States, which has already sent at least 20 Mi-17 helicopters to Ukraine. Other countries in Europe, including Croatia, Czechia, Latvia, and Portugal, have also pledged to send helicopters to the Zelensky government.
The UK had previously shied away from sending such aircraft for fear that it could be seen by Moscow as an escalation from NATO, which has been heavily involved in the conflict despite the fact that the treaty has no obligation to protect Ukraine. For the same reason, Western powers have yet to provide Ukraine with any fighter jets to date.
Britain has, however, been actively training Ukrainian forces for months, particularly on how to operate the high-tech weaponry being supplied to them by Western forces. The same has already been done for the Sea King helicopters, with Ukrainian pilots reported as having been trained for six weeks to operate the aircraft.
The Sea King helicopters, which were retired from service in the Royal Navy in 2018, were primarily designed to engage in anti-submarine warfare but they are also capable of performing search and rescue missions and reconnaissance. The helicopters are well regarded as being very capable but are now old airframes.
Russia has become increasingly critical of the UK’s role in the war, with Moscow’s ambassador to London, Andrey Kelin saying earlier this month that it risks escalating the situation.
“It can bring us up to the line of I would say no return, return is always possible. But anyway, we should avoid escalation,” Yelin said. “And this is a warning actually that Britain is too deep in this conflict. It means the situation is becoming more and more dangerous.”
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