Despite renewed calls from Ukrainian officials for air support, the United States (US) has ruled out sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine as it the country battles the Russian invasion that is almost a year now.
Asked by a reporter on Monday if the US would be providing the planes, US President Joe Biden replied simply “no”.
Mr. Biden’s comment comes a day after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also ruled out sending fighter jets, according to the BBC.
Ukraine has said it needs the jets to take control of its airspace in its ongoing war with Russia.
F-16 Fighting Falcons are widely considered one of the world’s most reliable fighter jets and are used by other countries, such as Belgium and Pakistan.
They would be a significant upgrade on the Soviet-era fighting jets Ukraine is currently using, which were made before the country declared independence from the now defunct Union of Soviet Socialists Republics (USSR) more than 30 years ago.
However, Biden has repeatedly rebuffed Ukraine’s pleas for the jets, instead focusing on providing military support in other areas.
The US announced last week that it would supply Kyiv with 31 Abrams tanks, with the United Kingdom (UK) and Germany also pledging similar support.
Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Andrii Melnyk, welcomed that announcement but asked allies for the creation of a “fighter jet coalition” that would also provide Ukraine with Eurofighters, Tornados, French Rafales and Swedish Gripen jets.
Ukrainian Presidential Adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Ukraine’s Freedom Television Network they also needed missiles “to drastically reduce the Russian army’s key weapon”.
And Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky echoed that in a daily video address where he said that the country needed the US-made ATACMS missile, which has a range of 185 miles (297 kilometres).
He said the missiles would help Ukraine anticipate Russian attacks on urban areas and civilians.
Washington has so far refused to provide that weapon.
In an interview on Sunday, Germany’s Chancellor said that it “seemed frivolous” to discuss sending other military aid to Ukraine when they had just committed to sending the Leopard 2s.
“The fact we’ve only just made a decision [on sending tanks] and the next debate is firing up in Germany, that just seems frivolous”, he told German newspaper Tagesspiegel.
Mr. Scholz also reiterated to Tagesspiegel that the NATO military alliance was not at war with Russia and that it would “not allow such an escalation”.
He confirmed that he speaks regularly to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, with the most recent call between the two in December 2022.
“We need to talk to each other,” he said, but added that he was always clear that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was absolutely unacceptable and only the withdrawal of its troops would resolve the situation.
Moscow has accused NATO of being an aggressor by proxy and members of the alliance, including the US and Germany, have been reluctant to send military aid that could see the conflict escalate.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday echoed this sentiment – saying that while “nothing is excluded” when it comes to providing support to Ukraine, it must neither further inflame the situation nor limit France’s ability to defend itself.
Other European Union (EU) countries, including the Netherlands, have not yet given a definitive response on whether they will send fighter jets.
However, Poland has indicated that it would be prepared to supply fighter jets in co-ordination with NATO.
Last Wednesday Germany committed to supplying 14 of its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, after weeks of pressure from allies.
Following Germany’s commitment to send the tanks, the US said it would provide Ukraine with its M1 Abrams tanks.
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