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Zelensky praises Boris Johnson’s support on sanctions, aid after surprise visit

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Kyiv on April 9 and met his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky. (Video: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service)

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the British Embassy in Kyiv had shared a photo on Twitter announcing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to Ukraine. The photo was shared by the Ukrainian Embassy in London. The article has been corrected.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on leaders of Western democracies to “follow the example of the United Kingdom” during British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s surprise visit to Ukraine on Saturday.

“We have to exert pressure in the form of sanctions, and I’m grateful to the United Kingdom that continues and intensifies the sanctions and also provides significant support to Ukraine by reinforcing our defense capacities,” Zelensky said at a news conference, calling on Western countries to impose an embargo on Russian energy sources and supply more weapons to Ukraine.

Calling Moscow’s war “inexcusable,” Johnson pledged to intensify sanctions on Russia, “not just freezing assets in banks and sanctioning oligarchs, but moving away from the use of Russian hydrocarbons.” He also promised Britain’s help with clearing mines left behind by Russian forces and said Britain would liberalize trade with Ukraine.

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“What this war is certainly producing is a clarity about a vision for the future of Ukraine, where together with friends and partners, we, the U.K., and others, supply the equipment, the technology, the know-how, the intelligence, so that Ukraine will never be invaded again — so that Ukraine is so fortified and so protected that Ukraine can never be bullied again, never be blackmailed again, never be threatened in the same way again,” Johnson said at the news conference alongside Zelensky.

The trip was Johnson’s first to the war-ravaged country since the Russian invasion. A Downing Street spokeswoman said the British leader traveled to Ukraine in “a show of solidarity with the Ukrainian people” and intended to present a new package of military and financial aid.

The Ukrainian Embassy in London announced the visit by sharing a photo on Twitter of Johnson and Zelensky on Saturday with the caption “Surprise.” The two leaders were pictured sitting across from each other at a conference table, with the British and Ukrainian flags in the background.

In a Telegram post after the meeting, Andriy Yermak, head of the presidential office, called the conversation between Zelensky and Johnson “very full and constructive.” Yermak said he is in regular contact with Johnson’s national security adviser, Stephen Lovegrove, and with David Quarrey, his foreign affairs adviser, “so the visit was not spontaneous.”

Later on Saturday, Zelensky shared a video on his Telegram channel showing the two men walking down largely empty streets in Kyiv, flanked by soldiers. A Ukrainian man they encountered on one street corner yelled out thanks to Johnson before shaking his hand. During their walk, a woman who said she was from Kharkiv offered Johnson and Zelensky ceramic roosters, which became a symbol of Ukrainian resilience after one such ceramic piece survived a Russian attack on a building in the village of Borodyanka near Kyiv, the president’s office said.

Johnson had traveled to Ukraine in February as Russia was preparing to invade. Oliver Dowden, a chairman of the Conservative Party, told LBC Radio last month that the British prime minister was “desperate” to go to Ukraine and has a “real emotional connection” with the Ukrainian people.

Zelensky has repeatedly praised Johnson, calling him “an example” for other world leaders. Johnson and Zelensky reportedly speak most days, and Britain moved to help Ukraine before other European countries.

Zelensky on Saturday expressed gratitude toward Johnson for the “direct, very clear and specific position of your wonderful and powerful country,” thanking him for visiting and calling him “our most sincere friend.”

“You came here, and we are especially grateful that this happened — this is a true reflection of the decisive and significant support to Ukraine from the United Kingdom, and we always are grateful for that, we shall always remember that,” Zelensky said.

Johnson’s trip came a day after he announced that Britain would provide an additional $130 million worth of weapons to Ukraine after the “unconscionable bombing” of fleeing Ukrainians at a train station Friday in eastern Ukraine.

The military equipment will include Starstreak antiaircraft missiles and 800 antitank missiles, Johnson said, as well as precision munitions and additional helmets, body armor and night-vision equipment.

In Kyiv on Saturday, Johnson pledged 120 armored vehicles and new anti-ship missiles to Ukraine. He also said the U.K. would guarantee $500 million more in World Bank lending to Ukraine, according to a statement from Downing Street.

What weapons to send to Ukraine? How debate shifted from helmets to tanks.

Johnson’s visit followed a trip by European Union leaders to Ukraine on Friday. Because Britain is no longer a member of the E.U., Johnson has made a coordinated but separate effort to show support for Ukraine.

Hours after the visit, Zelensky warned in his nightly address that “the whole European project is a target for Russia” and called on “all democracies, the whole civilized world” to impose an embargo on Russian oil as a first step in pushing Moscow toward a peace deal with Kyiv.

The United Kingdom announced last month that it would phase out Russian oil imports by the end of the year. The United States has banned imports of Russian oil, but Europe, dependent on Russia’s supply, has remained resistant.

In his address Saturday night, Zelensky said Russian oil and gas were the “two sources of Russian self-confidence, and their sense of impunity.”

“Russia can still afford to live in illusions and bring new military forces and new equipment to our land,” Zelensky said, according to an English translation posted to his Telegram account. “And it means that ever more sanctions are needed. Even more weapons for our state are needed.”

Miriam Berger contributed to this report.

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