Dominic McGrath, PA
Fri, 24 February 2023 at 6:46 am GMT
Ukraine is marking one year since the Russian invasion, with the UK set to join allies in pledging to stand with the war-torn country for as long as is needed.
In London, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will lead a national minute’s silence to mark the anniversary, with G7 leaders set to meet to discuss a conflict that has scarred Europe and shaken the West.
With no end in sight for the war, Mr Sunak will urge his fellow world leaders to “move faster” in arming Ukraine’s troops as the battle against Vladimir Putin’s forces continues.
“For Ukraine to win this war – and to accelerate that day – they must gain a decisive advantage on the battlefield. That is what it will take to shift Putin’s mindset. This must be our priority now. Instead of an incremental approach, we need to move faster on artillery, armour, and air defence,” Mr Sunak is expected to tell world leaders in a virtual meeting.
“The coming weeks will be difficult for Ukraine, but they will also be difficult for Russia. They are over-reaching once again. So now is the time to support Ukraine’s plan to re-arm, regroup, and push forward.”
Crowds gathered in Trafalgar Square in London to mark the anniversary on Thursday evening, where Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and other speakers praised the bravery of Ukrainian fighters.
The UK remains a prominent supporter of Kyiv, with the Government announcing earlier this year that Britain would be the first country to supply tanks to its armed forces.
But fears remain that the war could continue for at least another year, even as Ukraine insists that further support and weaponry can help bring the conflict to a conclusion.
President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call for fighter jets has so far been met with reluctance by western allies.
Mr Zelensky, whose leadership during the war has turned him into a global figure, embarked on a whirlwind of diplomacy in recent weeks as he toured Washington and European capitals to pressure allies on the need for further help.
At the G7 meeting, Mr Sunak is expected to urge other nations to supply longer-range weapons to Kyiv, while also repeating his offer of British support to countries able to provide planes.
Mr Sunak, who also will host members of the Ukrainian armed forces in Downing Street as well as ambassador Vadym Prystaiko, will hang a blue and yellow wreath on the door of No 10 accompanied by his wife Akshata Murty.
“As we mark one year since a full-scale war broke out on our continent, I urge everyone to reflect on the courage and bravery of our Ukrainian friends who, every hour since, have fought heroically for their country,” he said.
“I am proud that the UK has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine through this horrific conflict. As I stand with brave Ukrainian soldiers outside Downing Street today, my thoughts will be with all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend freedom and return peace to Europe.”
In Ukraine, soldiers are braced for a Russian spring offensive. But Mr Putin’s original plan of taking the country in only a matter of days failed, with a vast amount of the current fighting centring around the battle for the east of Ukraine.
Boris Johnson, who was prime minister when the war began and when few believed Ukraine could hold out against Russia, has become a vocal advocate of the need to send jet fighters to the Ukrainians.
“Now is the time to give President Zelensky the tools the Ukrainians need to finish the job,” he said.
“The last year has taught us that sooner or later, the West gives the Ukrainians what they need. And if that is the choice – sooner or later – let’s make it sooner, for the sake of Ukraine and the world.
“A swift Ukrainian victory is the humane, compassionate and economically sensible outcome.”
In New York, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will tell a special session of the UN Security Council that support for Ukraine cannot be “time-limited”.
While there, he will meet his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, as well as UN secretary general Antonio Guterres.
The UN General Assembly on Thursday approved a non-binding resolution, backed by 141 nations, calling for Russia to end hostilities in Ukraine and demanding the withdrawal of its forces.
In the UK, politicians have been united on the need to stand with Ukraine.
On Friday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that the country’s support “is as firm and unstinting today as it was on that dark day one year ago”.
The Labour leader met with Mr Zelensky in the Ukrainian capital recently.
He said: “As we mark this solemn anniversary and look ahead to the coming months, we must do the same. Regardless of what other political disagreements we may have, we stand in lockstep with the Government on this issue.
“No-one should ever have to face the hardship and loss that the Ukrainian people have over the last year. Their fight for democracy, freedom and liberty in the face of tyranny is also our fight. Standing with our Nato allies, we will ensure Putin’s defeat and Ukraine’s victory.”
Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey said the whole country would “stand in solidarity with Ukraine until they achieve victory”.