UK’s Johnson offers more armored vehicles and missiles to Ukraine

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Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walk along a street after a meeting, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine April 9, 2022. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS (photo credit: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS)

Johnson and Nehammer visited Ukraine a day after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Ukraine is ready for a tough battle with Russian forces amassing in the east of the country, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered fresh financial and military support during a surprise visit.

Johnson met Zelensky “in a show of solidarity with the Ukrainian people,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.

Johnson told Zelensky that Britain would provide the country with 120 armored vehicles and new anti-ship missile systems.

The aid was in addition to 100 million pounds’ ($130 million) worth of high-grade military equipment announced on Friday, Downing Street said.

Britain would also guarantee an additional $500 million in World Bank lending to Ukraine, taking its total loan guarantee to $1 billion, and would liberalize tariffs on most imports from Ukraine and take other measures to free up trade.

Britain also will continue to ratchet up its sanctions on Russia and move away from using Russian hydrocarbons, he said.

The support aims to ensure that “Ukraine can never be bullied again, never will be blackmailed again, never will be threatened in the same way again,” Johnson said.

Johnson was the latest foreign leader to visit Kyiv after Russian forces pulled back from areas around the capital just over a week ago.

Earlier in the day, the Ukrainian leader met Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer in Kyiv, warning in a joint news conference that while the threat to the capital had receded, it was rising in the east.

“This will be a hard battle, we believe in this fight and our victory. We are ready to simultaneously fight and look for diplomatic ways to put an end to this war,” Zelensky said.

Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said Zelenskiy and Russian President Vladimir Putin would not meet until after the country defeated Russia in the east, which would bolster its negotiating position.

“We are paying a very high price. But Russia must get rid of its imperial illusions,” he said, according to the Interfax Ukraine news agency.

Air-raid sirens sounded in cities across eastern Ukraine, which has become the focus of Russian military action after the withdrawal from around Kyiv.

Ukrainian officials have urged civilians in the east to flee. On Friday, officials said more than 50 people were killed in a missile strike on a train station in city of Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region, where thousands of people had gathered to evacuate.

Russia’s invasion, which began on Feb. 24, has forced around a quarter of the population of 44 million to leave their homes, turned cities into rubble and killed or injured thousands.

The civilian casualties have triggered a wave of international condemnation, in particular over deaths in the town of Bucha, a town to the northwest of Kyiv that until last week was occupied by Russian forces.

“We will never forget everything we saw here, this will stay with us for our whole lives,” said Bohdan Zubchuk, a community policeman in the town, describing his life before and after the war.

British military intelligence said that Russia’s retreat from the region revealed “disproportionate” targeting of civilians.

Russia has denied targeting civilians in what it calls a “special operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” its southern neighbor. Ukraine and Western nations have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for war.

Foreign leaders visit

Johnson and Nehammer visited Ukraine a day after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

In a video posted on Twitter showed Johnson and Zelenskiy, flanked by soldiers, walking through central Kyiv to a memorial marking the 2014 Maidan Revolution.

The EU on Friday adopted new sanctions against Russia, including bans on the import of coal, wood, chemicals and other products. Oil and gas imports from Russia so far remain untouched.

Zelensky urged the West to adopt a complete embargo on Russian energy products and supply more weapons to Ukraine.

“Russia can still afford to live in illusions and bring new military forces and new equipment to our land. And that means we need even more sanctions and even more weapons for our state,” he said in a late-night address.

The visits by foreign leaders were a sign that Kyiv was returning to some degree of normality after the Russian retreat. Some residents have begun to return to the capital, with cafes and restaurants reopening, and Italy said it plans to re-open its embassy in the city later this month.

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