Ukraine pushes for Western fighter jets after tank deals

A boy stands on a destroyed Russian tank displayed in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday Jan. 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)
A boy stands on a destroyed Russian tank displayed in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday Jan. 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

By SUSIE BLANN

Associated Press

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 warplanes to Kyiv after almost a year of battling Russia's invading forces.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov held talks with his French counterpart, saying they did not discuss specific fighter jets, but they 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."

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 conflict and draw them in deeper.

Asked Monday if his administration was considering sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, U.S. President Joe Biden responded, "No."

On Tuesday, Reznikov was asked if Biden's "no" to F-16s was the final word.

"All types of help first passed through the 'no' stage," he said. "Which only means 'no' at today's given moment. The second stage is, 'Let's talk and study technical possibilities.' The third stage is, 'Let's get your personnel trained.' And the fourth stage is the transfer (of equipment)."

Kyiv has repeatedly urged allies to send jets, callling them essential to challenging Russia's air superiority and to ensure the success of future counteroffensives spearheaded by Western 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, Western allies agreed last week to send the tanks, despite the hesitation and caution of some NATO members.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz appeared to balk at providing fighter jets, suggesting Sunday the reason for the discussion might be "domestic political motives" in some countries.

Asked Tuesday about Western weapons supplies 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."

Following talks in Moscow with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, he said 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 after the war being deadlocked on the battlefield during winter.