Sir Keir Starmer has promised Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky that the UK’s commitment to the country would “remain the same” if there is a Labour government during a visit to capital Kyiv.
The Labour leader said he had a “very constructive meeting” with Mr Zelensky to discuss military support required and the need for prosecutions of Russia’s leaders for “war crimes”.
With his party well in front the Tories in the opinion polls, Sir Keir also stressed he was committed to Kyiv’s cause if he enters No 10 after the next general election.
“I was able to tell him that should there be a change of government when we have a general election here, the support for Ukraine will remain the same,” he said. “It’s a very important message for me to be able to relay to the president face to face.”
“I’ve said throughout this conflict there will be no difference between the political parties on this, so we will continue to work with the government to see what further support we can provide.”
Sir Keir said Mr Zelensky was “very concerned” about ongoing support with weapons and training for Ukraine troops. “I stressed that the Labour Party supports and would maintain the defence, training, and technological support the current UK government is providing.”
The Labour leader also said there “has to be justice” for war crimes against the Ukrainian people as he visited areas that Russian president Vladimir Putin’s troops turned into conflict zones.
Sir Keir visited both Bucha and Irpin, a Kyiv suburb where heavy fighting took place in the first months of Moscow’s invasion, and met with experts in human rights, reconstruction and appropriations.
Speaking to reporters about his visit to Bucha, an area where war crimes were allegedly carried out by occupying Russian troops, he said: “It’s incredible to see the evidence of atrocities that I’ve seen this morning.”
He added: “Photographs of civilians in the outskirts of Kyiv blindfolded, with their arms tied behind their back. There has to be justice for this. There has to be justice in the Hague and there has to be proper reparation in the rebuilding of Ukraine.”
In an interview with the BBC, Mr Zelensky ruled out giving up any of Ukraine’s territory as part of any potential peace deal with Putin.
He also reiterated his call for more help from the West – including fighter planes. “Of course, modern weapons speed up peace. Weapons are the only language Russia understands,” he said,
It follows a momentous visit by Mr Zelensky to Britain last week during which he implored Rishi Sunak to hand over fighter jets for his air force as Ukraine prepares to counter an expected Russian spring offensive.
But defence secretary Ben Wallace said this week that it could be years before the UK gives any fighter jets – suggesting that Kyiv may even have to wait until the war with Russia was over before British aircraft were supplied.
“I don’t think it’s going to be in the next few months or even years,” he told the BBC. “We’re not going to deploy, you know, 200 RAF personnel into Ukraine in the time of a war.”
The defence secretary also described reports in the German media about Nato chiefs asking Germany to stay in charge of the organisation’s rapid-reaction force next year rather than letting the UK take over as “b*****ks”.
Mr Wallace and Mr Sunak will join world leaders in Munich this weekend for the annual international security conference, with Ukraine’s war with Russian invaders set to dominate.
Sir Keir’s trip to Ukraine is part of a series of meetings aimed at boosting his foreign policy credentials. The Labour leader will also visit the Munich conference at the weekend for meetings with world leaders.
Meanwhile, former shadow chancellor John McDonnell warned that Sir Keir is making a “mistake” in his pledge to block Jeremy Corbyn from standing for Labour at the next election.
Mr McDonnell on Thursday joined another Corbyn ally, Diane Abbott, in defending the veteran left-wing MP as he described it as a “fundamental” test of Labour values.
But Sir Keir has firmly ruled out Mr Corbyn standing again for Labour as he welcomed the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) decision to lift the party out of two years of special measures over its failings on antisemitism under his predecessor’s leadership.