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Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak meet outside Number 10 Downing Street in London on Feb. 8.HENRY NICHOLLS/Reuters

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has signalled that his government is prepared to send fighter jets to Ukraine, telling a news conference with visiting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Britain has agreed to start training Ukrainian pilots on NATO-standard aircraft.

Mr. Sunak said he has also been having conversations with other allies because providing jets involves international treaties.

“When it comes to the provision of military assistance to Ukraine, nothing is off the table,” Mr. Sunak said Wednesday at a British military base. Fighter jets “are part of the conversation. Indeed, we’ve been discussing that today.”

Britain and other NATO allies have been reluctant to send Ukraine fighter jets such as Britain’s Typhoons and U.S.-made F-16s. Ukraine views the aircraft as vital to providing cover for ground forces and shooting down Russian drones and missiles. However, Western officials have argued that training fighter pilots can take years, so the jets would only be a long-term solution for Ukraine.

Mr. Zelensky welcomed Mr. Sunak’s comments and said he hoped other Western leaders would take note. “Today, once again I heard from Mr. Prime Minister the desire to provide fighter jets,” he said. “I have to do everything possible to make sure that our partners give everything they can to strengthen us on the battlefield.”

Wednesday’s surprise visit underscored his eagerness to keep Western countries engaged with Ukraine as the war enters its second year and Russia intensifies its attacks.

The Russian army has been throwing tens of thousands of soldiers into battle along the eastern front in an effort to overwhelm Ukrainian troops. The tactic has resulted in hundreds of daily casualties, but Ukraine fears Moscow will step up the assaults in the coming weeks in order to secure some badly needed battlefield victories. Russian President Vladimir Putin has also been counting on Western interest in Ukraine to fade as the war drags on.

The news conference came at the end of a long day for Mr. Zelensky that included an address to Parliament and a meeting with King Charles at Buckingham Palace. It was the first stop on a whirlwind tour of European capitals by the Ukrainian President, who is seeking fighter jets and other weapons from Western allies to counter a looming Russian offensive.

He flew to Paris late Wednesday for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. On Thursday, he was expected to travel to Brussels and address the summit of the leaders of the European Union’s 27 member countries.

“We are intensifying our diplomacy,” he said Wednesday. “This is how we have been able to change many things.” Without jets and more advanced weapons, he said, the war will stagnate and the Russians “will be living on our territory – and that poses a risk to the rest of the world.”

In a speech earlier in the day, to Britain’s House of Commons and House of Lords, Mr. Zelensky made an impassioned plea for fighter aircraft.

“I appeal to you and the world with simple and yet most important words: combat aircraft for Ukraine. Wings for freedom,” he said. He paused briefly during his remarks and handed the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the helmet of a Ukrainian fighter pilot. It was inscribed with the words “We have freedom. Give us wings to protect it.”

Dressed in combat clothing, Mr. Zelensky also thanked Britain for its unwavering support of Ukraine. “The United Kingdom is marching with us toward the most, I think, the most important victory of our lifetime,” he said.

The trip to Britain marked only the second time that Mr. Zelensky had been outside his country since the war began. Last December he went to Washington, D.C., to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden and address Congress, before stopping in Poland on his way back.

Britain has been a staunch backer of Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24 of last year. Britain provided £2.3-billion ($3.73-billion) in military assistance to Ukraine in 2022, and the government has committed the same amount for this year. That is second only to the U.S., which has contributed US$26.7-billion worth of military hardware since last February.

On Wednesday, Mr. Sunak announced that Britain would begin training Ukrainian pilots as part of an overall program to train 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers this year. But he said it takes up to three years for a pilot to become familiar with the Typhoon.

In a gentle put-down, Mr. Zelensky said he didn’t know it took that long. “We will send you pilots with 2½ years of experience,” he said with a smile.

Mr. Zelensky hopes that Britain’s decision to start training pilots will be a precursor to sending the jets. Something similar happened with main battle tanks.

NATO countries, notably the U.S. and Germany, were initially reluctant to provide tanks to Ukraine, but they relented after Britain agreed to send 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks. The U.S. has now committed 31 of its M1 Abrams tanks, and this week Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands announced a joint plan to send 100 Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine within a few weeks. Germany has also said it will provide 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks to Ukraine and will permit other countries to re-export their German-made Leopard tanks.

Canada has also pledged to send four of its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Two of the tanks arrived in Poland this week with a team of Canadian Armed Forces members, who will begin training Ukrainian soldiers.