© Reuters. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksiy Reznikov, Icelandic Foreign Minister Thordis Kolbrun Reykfjord Gylfadottir and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meet to discuss how to help the Ukraine to defend itself
(Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Wednesday began a European tour to mobilize aid, winning a British pledge to train Ukrainian pilots on advanced NATO fighter jets, a major step forward in support Western military.
* London was his first stop on his second trip abroad since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Zelenskiy was due to travel to Paris later Wednesday and Thursday to Brussels, where the European Union is holding a summit.
* Zelenskiy urged Britain and others to give Ukraine ‘wings for freedom’ by sending fighter jets to help turn the tide against the Russian offensive, hoping to overcome the Western reluctance to take this step.
* British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the country would speed up the supply of military equipment, including longer-range capabilities, as well as expanding its Ukrainian military training to include pilots. Kyiv says Russia is stepping up its assault on Ukrainian government-held areas in eastern and southern parts of Ukraine that Moscow has unilaterally declared to be part of Russia now.
* International prosecutors say they have found ‘strong indications’ that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the use in Ukraine of a Russian missile system that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over eastern Ukraine in 2014. The Kremlin, which has repeatedly denied any Russian state involvement in the past, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
* Russian authorities are discussing a one-off budget contribution from businesses of around 200-250 billion rubles ($2.8-3.5 billion) this year, three sources familiar with the talks told Reuters, as Moscow seeks to contain its growing budget deficit.
* Western sanctions on Russia have drastically reduced state oil revenues and diverted tens of billions of dollars to transportation and refining companies, some of which have ties to Russia.
* The Russian ruble fell to a one-month low against the dollar ahead of two OFZ Treasury bond auctions, dampened by a more dramatic fall in government foreign currency sales. Russia is now selling 8.9 billion rubles ($124.48 million) worth of foreign currency a day, offsetting lower oil and gas revenues, down 46.4% year-on-year in January.
* A fire broke out at an oil refinery in Russia’s southern Rostov region but was later extinguished, Russian news agencies said. The cause was not immediately clear.
* “We repel all their attempts to break through,” Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai told Ukrainian television, reporting what he called the most intense shelling and attacks on the frontline in the east of Ukraine to this day.
* Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat, calling for more missiles: “The enemy is advancing to the east, succeeding in some places and accumulating forces. We must prepare.”