Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky was promised billions of dollars in new military aid during a whirlwind tour of European allies that marked a dramatic shift in the political landscape, as Europe has a more central role in arming Ukraine for its expected counter-offensive to drive Russia out of its territory.
The four country tour of Mr. Zelensky started in Italy on Saturday and ended in Britain on Monday, when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised to deliver a major package of air defense missiles and attack drones. That’s in addition to Britain’s recent delivery of long-range cruise missiles. And it follows Germany’s pledge to give Ukraine a nearly $3 billion weapons package, as well as less concrete promises of more weapons from France and Italy.
The show of European support for Ukraine, analysts say, underscores that the war is at a crucial stage, with Ukrainian forces massing for a counteroffensive that could set the terms for any future negotiations with Russia. It also shows a recognition that support for Ukraine in the United States, which until now is the largest supplier of weapons, is likely to come under pressure.
Mr. is worried. Zelensky said that as the US presidential race heats up, President Biden is less able to lead diplomatic efforts, German and Ukrainian officials said. If a Republican wins the White House, officials worry there will be a breakdown in leadership among Western allies.
“This is an important opportunity to fight against Ukraine in a terrible war of aggression that they did not choose or provoke,” said Mr. Sunak in a statement, as he welcomed Mr. Zelensky at Checkers, the British leader’s country home outside London.
Mr. Zelensky, who embraced Mr. Sunak after getting off a helicopter, described the meetings as “substantive negotiations” and called Mr. Sunak in a Twitter post “my friend Rishi.” The two met in a room Winston Churchill used to write his rally-the-nation radio broadcasts during World War II.
Mr. Zelensky held similarly heated meetings with Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany in Berlin and President Emmanuel Macron of France in Paris, both on Sunday; and with Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of Italy in Rome, where he also met Pope Francis, last Saturday. From his visits, Mr. Zelensky came out with at least the promise of more weapons.
The new long-range missiles, attack drones and tanks and other armored vehicles obtained from the allies in recent days will fulfill many, but not all, of the demands for of weapons that Ukraine says it needs for a counter-offensive.
“The trajectory across Europe is to do more,” said Malcolm Chalmers, the deputy director general of the Royal United Services Institute, a research group in London. “That is partly about the evolution of European politics. It is also driven by expectations that the next few months are critical, and things can go either way.
“The prospect of the American people’s commitment fading as we get closer to the election is in the back of people’s minds,” added Mr. Chalmers. “This is the reason for the desire to get Ukraine in the best possible position before the negotiations.”
White House officials have said privately that they remain confident they have bipartisan support in Congress to continue helping Ukraine in the near term, but they have not asked for more financial aid since Republicans took over the House. and, therefore, that hypothesis was not tested.
Combined, military analysts say, the reinforcements in Europe make it likely that Ukrainian military forces will soon attack Russian forces in control of the south of the country, putting what may have been one of the bloodiest episodes of the 15-month war. Mr. warned. Zelensky that without additional weapons, the counter-offensive may be delayed.
Germany was the first to respond to his call: Its commitment included 30 additional Leopard tanks, 20 armored fighting vehicles, 16 air-defense systems, more than 200 drones and a slew of other weapons. and ammunition.
Leopards and armored fighting vehicles will be useful in reclaiming territory, as the grassy steppe in southern Ukraine is suitable “for tank or maneuver warfare,” said Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, an intelligence officer in the Danish army. who is now a senior partner in Germany. Marshall Fund in Brussels.
Britain’s missiles and drones, he added, could be used to attack Russian bases in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula seized by Moscow after a disputed referendum in 2014.
Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed that the long-range missile, known as Storm Shadow, had been fired by forces in eastern Ukraine, injuring six civilians on Saturday. The claim could not be independently verified, and there was no comment from Britain.
The Kremlin expressed anger at Britain’s pledge. “We take a very negative view of it,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov said, according to Russian state news agency TASS. But he added that the weapons “did not have any significant effect” on the war.
The United States has resisted sending long-range missiles to Ukraine, in part to avoid escalating the conflict with weapons that could reach Russian territory. That is also one reason the Biden administration did not agree to Ukraine’s requests for American-made F-16 fighter jets.
American officials say, however, they will not prevent other states from sending their own weapons to Ukraine. And analysts say Britain would not have provided the long-range missiles without Washington’s approval.
Mr. Sunak promised to begin training Ukrainian fighter pilots on the F-16 this summer. Mr. Macron also said in a televised interview on Monday that France and other European countries are “opening the door to training pilots” and that “training can start immediately.” He added that “discussions with the Americans are ongoing.”
Additional pledges in Europe, analysts say, show a growing confidence that Ukrainian troops will make decisive achievements in its counter-offensive. Kicking Russia out of Ukrainian territory would greatly increase Mr. Zelensky in any negotiations with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
“We are not going to hand over such a number of weapons to Ukraine at this point if the thinking is that it is not likely that they will succeed,” Mr. Kirkegaard. “No one is sure, but we in the West seem to be stronger in Ukraine.”
In February, during his first visit to Western Europe after the outbreak of war, Mr. Zelensky visited London, where he appealed for combat aircraft before traveling to Paris for a meeting with Mr. Macron and Mr. Scholz. This time, Britain is Mr. Zelensky’s last stop.
With its aggressive approach, Britain has often acted as a catalyst for more reluctant Western countries to provide Ukraine with heavier weapons. Its decision to send a squadron of Challenger 2 battle tanks, for example, foreshadows decisions by Germany and the United States to send more sophisticated tanks.
Britain is also providing about $2.8 billion in military aid to Ukraine in 2022, making it the country’s biggest backer after the United States and Germany.
European and Ukrainian officials said Mr. Zelensky had also privately pushed for a greater European role in the diplomatic arena. Ukraine is wary of countries with close ties to Russia, such as China and Brazil, making peace plans or acting as mediators.
Mr. Zelensky hopes to get allies like Germany more involved, according to a Ukrainian official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Mr. Macron, who has tried to position himself as a key diplomatic player in future peace talks, pressed China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, last month to use his close ties with Moscow to can help start negotiations.
China later announced it would send Li Hui, its special representative for Eurasian affairs, to Ukraine after a phone call between Mr. Xi and Mr. Zelensky. Mr. Li will begin his trip on Monday to Ukraine and Russia in an attempt to help negotiate an end to the war.
Reporting was contributed by Lara Jakes in Rome, Erika Solomon and Christopher F. Schuetze in berlin, Peter Baker in washington, Always Meheut in Paris and Vivian Wang in Beijing.