Ukraine pushes for Western fighter jets after tank deals
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine won support Tuesday from Baltic nations and Poland in its quest to obtain Western fighter jets, but there were no signs that larger nations like the U.S. and Britain have changed their stance of refusing to provide the warplanes to Kyiv after almost a year of battling Russia’s invading forces.
“Ukraine needs fighter jets … missiles, tanks. We need to act,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said in the Latvian capital of Riga at a news conference with his Baltic and Polish colleagues. Those countries, which lie on NATO’s eastern flank, feel especially threatened by Russia and have been the leading advocates for providing military aid.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov held talks with his French counterpart, saying they did not discuss specific fighter jets but did talk about aviation “platforms” to help Ukraine’s ground-to-air defense.
“I don’t know how quick it will be, this response from Western allies” to Kyiv’s requests for fighter jets,” Reznikov said. “I’m optimistic and I think it will be as soon as possible.”
He also listed weapons Ukraine has sought in the past year, starting with Stingers, and said the first response was always, “Impossible.’’ Eventually though, he said, “it became possible.’’
French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu, speaking alongside Reznikov, said there are “no taboos” on sending fighter jets. He also confirmed that France is sending 12 more Caesar cannons in the coming weeks.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that France doesn’t exclude sending fighter jets to Ukraine, but he laid out multiple conditions before such a step is taken, including not leading to an escalation of tensions or using the aircraft “to touch Russian soil,” and not resulting in weakening “the capacities of the French army.”
Reznikov’s trip came a week after Western nations pledged to send Kyiv sophisticated modern tanks.
Several Western leaders have expressed concern that providing warplanes could escalate the nearly year-long conflict and draw them deeper into the war. Such fighter jets would offer Ukraine a major boost, but countering Russia’s massive air force would still be a major challenge.
The U.K. government, among Kyiv’s staunchest diplomatic supporters and military suppliers, said that sending its fighter jets is “not practical.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman, Max Blain, said “the U.K.’s Typhoon and F-35 fighter jets are extremely sophisticated and take months to learn how to fly.”
“Given that, we believe it is not practical to send those jets into Ukraine,” he said Tuesday, though he didn’t say that the U.K. was opposed to other countries sending planes.
Asked Monday if his administration was considering sending Ukraine F-16 fighter jets, U.S. President Joe Biden responded, “No.”
Kyiv officials have repeatedly urged allies to send jets, saying they are essential to challenge Russia’s air superiority and to ensure the success of future counteroffensives that could be spearheaded by the Western battle tanks.
The West also has ruled out providing Kyiv with long-range missiles able to hit Russian territory, citing potential escalation.
After months of haggling, Ukrainian authorities last week persuaded Western allies to send the tanks. That decision came despite the hesitation and caution of some NATO members, including the United States and Germany.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz appeared to balk at the prospect of providing fighter jets, suggesting Sunday that the reason for the entire discussion might be down to “domestic political motives” in some countries.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Monday there are “no taboos” in efforts to help Ukraine. But he added that sending jets “would be a very big next step.”
Asked Tuesday about the supplies of Western weapons to Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov repeated the Kremlin’s view that “NATO long has been directly involved into a hybrid war against Russia.”
He added after the talks in Moscow with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry that the Russian military will “take all the necessary measures to derail the fulfillment of Western plans.”
He said Shoukry conveyed a message from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken about Ukraine, which repeated calls from Washington for Russia to withdraw.
Lavrov said “Russia is ready to hear any serious — I want to underline this word — proposal aimed at comprehensive settlement of the current situation.”
Both Ukraine and Russia are believed to be building up their arsenals for an expected offensive in the coming months. The war has been largely deadlocked on the battlefield during the winter.
Asked about Lithuania’s call for fighter jets and long-range missiles for Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the comments “reflected an aggressive approach taken by the Baltic nations and Poland, who are ready to do everything to provoke further escalation without thinking about consequences.”
“It’s very sad that the leaders of big European countries that drive the European agenda don’t fulfill a balancing role to offset such extremist inclinations,” Peskov told reporters.
NATO-member Croatia’s president, meanwhile, criticized Western nations for supplying Ukraine with heavy tanks and other weapons. President Zoran Milanovic argued that those arms deliveries will only prolong the war.
Earlier in the conflict, discussions focused on the possibility of providing Kyiv with Soviet-made MiG-29 fighter jets that Ukrainian pilots are familiar with. In March, the Pentagon rejected Poland’s proposal to transfer its MiG-29s to Kyiv through a U.S. base in Germany, citing a high risk of triggering a Russia-NATO escalation.
Ukraine inherited a significant fleet of Soviet-made warplanes, including Su-27 and MiG-29 fighter jets and Su-25 ground attack aircraft.
Switching to Western aircraft would require Ukrainian crews to undergo long training and would also raise logistical challenges linked to their maintenance and repair.
Russia methodically targeted Ukrainian air bases and air defense batteries in the opening stage of the conflict, but Ukraine has been smart about relocating its warplanes and concealing air defense assets, resulting in Russia’s failure to gain full control of the skies.
After suffering heavy losses early during the conflict, the Russian air force has avoided venturing deep into Ukraine’s airspace and mostly focused on close support missions along the frontline.
The Ukrainian air force faced similar challenges, trying to save its remaining warplanes from being hit by Russian fighter jets and air defense systems.
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