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Britain’s prime minister visits Ukraine to give aid and reassurance of West’s support against Moscow

By SAMYA KULLAB and HANNA ARHIROVA
Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled new military funding for Ukraine on Friday during a visit to Kyiv aimed at reassuring the country that the West is still providing support nearly 23 months after Russia’s invasion.

The package, worth 2.5 billion pounds ($3.2 billion) over the next fiscal year, is the largest the U.K. has given to Ukraine since the war began, surpassing previous annual commitments by 200 million pounds ($233 million), the British government said.

“I am here today with one message: The U.K. will … not falter,” Sunak said. “We will stand with Ukraine, in their darkest hours and in the better times to come.”

The package will pay for long-range missiles, thousands of drones, air defense, artillery ammunition and maritime security, according to Sunak’s office. It comes at a time when other financial aid from the U.S. and Europe is tied up by political wrangling,

“We are not walking away,” Sunak said at a news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Ukrainian officials welcomed the U.K. announcement, pointing to it as evidence that Western support for its fight against its bigger neighbor is not waning, as some have feared.

“This is a signal to the world: Ukraine is not alone,” Zelenskyy said.

Sunak and Zelenskyy signed a bilateral security agreement for the next 10 years. It will remain in effect until Ukraine acquires its hoped-for NATO membership, Zelenskyy said. Details of the agreement are to be released later, officials said.

Kyiv has been urging the West to send more of the kind of aid the U.K. is providing as the grinding war brings little change along the front line and both sides turn to long-range strikes.

Sunak said he made Ukraine his first foreign trip of the year to send a “strong signal” of support, representing “the seriousness of the situation here and our determination to stand with Ukraine” amid competing claims for international attention.

Russian President Vladimir Putin “needs to recognize we’re not going anywhere,” he said.

Sunak’s visit came hours after the British and U.S. militaries bombed Yemen, hitting more than a dozen sites used by the Iranian-backed Houthis.

Thursday’s strikes were a reminder of another war, which has raged for years in the Arab world’s poorest nation. The attack also risked triggering a wider regional conflict over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Those concerns have drawn attention away from Ukraine’s struggle — a shift that Zelenskyy is trying to counter through diplomacy.

Sunak first visited Ukraine in November 2022, soon after he became prime minister, and Britain is one of Ukraine’s most vocal backers. It is the second-biggest donor of military aid to Ukraine after the U.S., giving a total of 4.6 billion pounds ($3.3 billion) in 2022 and 2023.

Ukraine and Russia are seeking to replenish their arsenals this year, military analysts say, in anticipation of possible major ground offensives in 2025.

Sunak said the U.K. aid is the biggest single package from any nation for drones, which have become a key battlefield weapon.

The roughly 1,500-kilometer (930-mile) front line has been largely static during winter, and both Ukraine and Russia need artillery shells, missiles and drones that enable longer-range strikes.

Ukraine says Moscow is receiving artillery shells and missiles from North Korea and drones from Iran. On Jan. 4, the White House cited U.S. intelligence officials as saying that Russia acquired ballistic missiles from North Korea and is seeking them from Iran.

Zelenskyy is pushing Kyiv’s Western allies to provide more support on top of the billions of dollars in military aid the country has already received.

He visited Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia this week in search of new pledges. The Baltic countries are among Kyiv’s staunchest supporters, and they promised more missiles, drones, howitzers and artillery shells.

Zelenskyy has warned that Ukraine particularly needs air defense systems. Recent Russian barrages — more than 500 drones and missiles were fired between Dec. 29 and Jan. 2, according to officials in Kyiv — are using up Ukraine’s resources and leaving it vulnerable.

Sunak said that the U.K. recognizes that Ukrainian security “is our security,” as Kyiv’s forces stand up to Putin.

“Today we are going further — increasing our military aid, delivering thousands of cutting-edge drones, and signing a historic new security agreement to provide Ukraine with the assurances it needs for the long term,” he said.

A plan by the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to send $60 billion in new funding to Kyiv is being held up in Congress. Europe’s pledge in March to provide 1 million artillery shells within 12 months also has fallen short, with only about 300,000 delivered by the end of last year.

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Associated Press writers Danica Kirka and Pan Pylas in London contributed.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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