Britain’s Shapps meets Zelenskiy on first visit to Kyiv as defence minister

KYIV (Reuters) -British defence minister Grant Shapps discussed how to bolster Ukraine’s air defences during talks in Kyiv with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the president’s office said on Thursday.

The visit to the Ukrainian capital was Shapps’ first to wartime Kyiv since he became defence secretary last month. Britain has been a staunch ally of Ukraine throughout the full-scale invasion launched by Russia in February 2022.

“On behalf of the whole nation, I thank you for everything you are doing for us. We are grateful for your help – military, financial, humanitarian. We greatly appreciate that we can rely on you,” a statement released by Zelenskiy’s office quoted the president as saying.

Zelenskiy raised defence sector cooperation between Kyiv and London, which he said had allowed Ukraine to significantly expand its capabilities on the battlefield with long-range weapons.

Britain this year supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles that have allowed Ukraine to conduct long-range strikes on targets in Russian-occupied territory.

The statement said Shapps and Zelenskiy discussed beefing up air defences in Ukraine amid fears that Russia will use long-range missiles and drones to target critical energy infrastructure in the depths of winter.

Ukraine’s new defence minister, Rustem Umerov, also met Shapps and said he had briefed him on the battlefield situation and Kyiv’s urgent needs.

“Focus on air defence, artillery, anti-drone systems. Winter is coming but we are ready. Stronger together,” Umerov said on X.

It was unclear exactly when Shapps met Zelenskiy. Shapps had already visited Ukraine during the war, but in his previous capacity of energy minister before replacing Ben Wallace as defence minister last month.

(Reporting by Anna Pruchnicka; editing by Tom Balmforth and Timothy Heritage)