Ukraine Pushes Western Fighters After Tank Deals

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine received support Tuesday from the Baltic states and Poland in its quest to acquire Western fighter jets, but there are no signs that major powers such as the United States and Britain have changed their stance on refusing to provide fighter jets to Kyiv. After almost a year of struggle Russian invasion forces.

“Ukraine needs fighter jets… missiles, tanks. We must act,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told a news conference with his Baltic and Polish counterparts in the Latvian capital, Riga. Those countries on NATO’s eastern flank feel particularly threatened by Russia and have been leading advocates of military aid.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov held talks with his French counterpart, saying they did not discuss specific fighter jets. But he did talk about air “bases” that would aid Ukraine’s ground-to-air defense.

“I don’t know how quickly it will be, this response from Western allies” to Kiev’s demands for fighter jets, Reznikov said. “I’m optimistic and I think it will be over as soon as possible.”

He also listed the weapons Ukraine had sought in the past year, starting with stingers, and said the first answer was always “impossible.” Ultimately, he said, “it’s possible.”

Speaking to Reznikov, French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu said there was no ban on sending fighter jets. He also confirmed that France is sending 12 more Caesar cannons in the coming weeks.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that France had not ruled out sending fighter jets to Ukraine, but he laid out several conditions before such a move could be made, including not escalating tensions or using the aircraft to “touch Russian soil”. and did not weaken “the capabilities of the French army”.

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Reznikov’s visit came a week after Western countries pledged to send Kyiv state-of-the-art tanks.

Many Western leaders have expressed concern that providing fighter jets could escalate the nearly year-old conflict and drag it deeper into war. Such fighter jets would give Ukraine a big boost, but countering Russia’s massive air force would still be a big challenge.

The UK government, among Kyiv’s staunchest diplomatic supporters and military suppliers, said it was “impractical” to send its warplanes.

Max Blaine, a spokesman for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, said: “The UK’s Typhoon and F-35 fighter jets are very sophisticated and will take months to learn how to fly.”

“Given that, we believe it is not practical to send those jets into Ukraine,” he said on Tuesday, but stopped short of saying the UK was opposed to other countries sending the planes.

Asked Monday if his administration was considering sending Ukraine F-16 fighter jets, U.S. President Joe Biden replied, “No.”

Kyiv officials have repeatedly urged allies to send the jets. They are vital to challenge Russia’s air superiority and ensure the success of future counterattacks that may be led by Western battle tanks.

The West has rejected Kyiv’s delivery of long-range missiles capable of striking Russian territory, citing possible escalation.

After months of haggling, Ukrainian officials last week urged Western allies to send tanks. The decision came despite reluctance and caution from some NATO members, including the United States and Germany.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz declined to offer the fighter jets, suggesting the whole debate on Sunday was due to “domestic political motives” in some countries.

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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Monday that there was “no obstacle” to efforts to help Ukraine. But he added that sending the jets would be “a very big next step.”

Asked about Western arms deliveries to Ukraine on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated the Kremlin’s view that “NATO has long been directly engaged in a hybrid war against Russia.”

After holding talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shogri in Moscow, he said the Russian military would “take all necessary measures to fulfill Western plans”.

He said Shogri conveyed a message from US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken about Ukraine, which repeated calls from Washington for Russia to withdraw.

Lavrov said, “Russia is ready to listen to any serious – I would like to underline this word – proposal aimed at a comprehensive solution of the current situation.”

Both Ukraine and Russia are believed to be building up their arsenals for an expected attack in the coming months. The battle on the battlefield during the winter was mostly a stalemate.

Asked about Lithuania’s call for warplanes and long-range missiles for Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it “reflects the aggressive attitude of the Baltic states and Poland, which are ready to do everything to provoke further escalation without thinking about the consequences.”

“It is very sad that the leaders of the major European countries, who drive the European agenda, do not fulfill their balancing role to offset such extremist tendencies,” Peskov told reporters.

The president of NATO-member Croatia, meanwhile, criticized Western countries for supplying Ukraine with heavy tanks and other weapons. President Zoran Milanovic argued That arms supply will only prolong the war.

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Earlier in the conflict, discussions focused on the possibility of Kyiv supplying the Soviet-made MiG-29 fighter jets familiar to Ukrainian pilots. In March, the Pentagon rejected a Polish proposal to transfer its MiG-29s to Kyiv via a US base in Germany, citing the high risk of triggering Russia-NATO escalation.

Ukraine maintains a significant fleet of Soviet-made fighter jets, including Su-27 and MiG-29 fighter jets and Su-25 ground attack aircraft.

The transition to Western aircraft will require Ukrainian crews to undergo lengthy training and will pose logistical challenges associated with their maintenance and repair.

Russia systematically targeted Ukrainian air bases and air defense batteries in the early stages of the conflict, but Ukraine has been clever in relocating its warplanes and hiding air defense assets, resulting in Russia failing to gain full control of the skies.

After suffering heavy losses early in the conflict, the Russian Air Force avoided going deep into Ukraine’s airspace and mostly focused on front-line close support missions.

The Ukrainian Air Force faced similar challenges trying to keep its remaining fighter jets from being attacked by Russian fighter jets and air defense systems.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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