Rishi Sunak resists Boris Johnson’s call to supply RAF warplanes to Ukraine
Rishi Sunak continues to resist calls by former prime minister Boris Johnson to supply fighter jets to Ukraine.
Mr Johnson has used a US tour to push for the West to step up military assistance for Kyiv, dismissing arguments against the supply of sophisticated Nato aircraft.
But Downing Street said it would take years to train Ukrainian pilots to fly the RAF’s Typhoon and F-35 planes and said the current PM was focused on providing support that would be of use now.
At an event hosted by the Atlantic Council think tank, Mr Johnson said: “I hear that an objection to their having sophisticated Western planes to fly is that they won’t know how to use them.
“I have to say I take that argument with a bit of a pinch of salt.”
But in Downing Street, the prime minister’s official spokesman set out the practical difficulties in supplying British warplanes to Ukraine.
“We will continue listening to the Ukrainians and consider what is right for the long term,” the spokesman said.
“But it’s helpful to understand the situation, that the fastest training programme for a new pilot is approximately 35 months. The current UK fast jet training programme takes five years.”
Mr Sunak’s strategy was to “focus on how we can help Ukraine defend their country and push back this year”, the spokesman added.
Downing Street has previously stressed that Mr Johnson was “acting in his own capacity and not on behalf of the UK government” during his visit to Washington.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace refused to rule out sending jets in the future.
He said there was “no magic wand in this horrendous conflict” but “on the question of jets, one thing I’ve learned over the last year is don’t rule anything in, don’t rule anything out”.
But he said training Ukrainian pilots to use UK fighter jets would “take months”, and suggested the priority should be helping train Kyiv’s forces to take back territory.
Speaking in Portsmouth alongside Australian counterparts, Mr Wallace said Russian forces were resorting to First World War-style “human wave” tactics against Ukrainian positions.
“They are resorting to First World War-level style of attacks, with the subsequent casualties to match.”
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said providing fighter planes was “not an immediate solution” for Ukraine in the war against Russia because of the time involved with training Kyiv pilots.
Oliver Dowden was asked what he made of Mr Johnson urging the UK government to commit to providing Ukraine with fighter jets.
The Cabinet minister told ITV’s Peston programme on Wednesday: “I certainly think that we need to be resolute in supporting our Ukrainian allies.
“Now, I think it is a bit premature to start talking about jets and everything else, but of course we don’t rule anything off the table.
“There’s training times and so on associated with that, so it is not an immediate solution, no.”
His comments came before Russian missiles hit residential areas in an eastern Ukrainian city on Thursday, for the second time in 24 hours.
The latest strikes in Kramatorsk were heard as rescue crews searched for survivors in the rubble of an apartment building hit late on Wednesday by a Russian missile that killed at least three people and injured 21 others.
At least one more victim was thought to be under the debris, Ukraine’s presidential office said.
“Kramatorsk again shattered by explosions — the Russians made two more rocket strikes,” regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote in a Telegram post.
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