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Ukraine pushes for Western fighter jets after tank deals

On Tuesday, as a Ukrainian service member camouflaged a mortar in the Donetsk region, Ukraine received support from Baltic nations and Poland to obtain fighter jets. Several Western leaders have expressed concern that providing warplanes could escalate the conflict and draw them in deeper.YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images

KYIV, Ukraine — 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 United States and Britain have changed their stance of refusing to provide 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.

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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.”

French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu, speaking with Reznikov, said there are “no taboos” on sending fighter jets. He also confirmed 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 but set out 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 conflict and draw them in deeper.

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The UK government, among Kyiv’s staunchest supporters and military suppliers, said sending its fighter jets is “not practical.” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman, Max Blain, said Tuesday that “the UK’s Typhoon and F-35 fighter jets are extremely sophisticated and take months to learn how to fly,” although he didn’t say London was opposed to other nations sending planes.

Asked Monday if his administration was considering sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, President 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).”

Reznikov said Ukraine went through those stages before it got the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, the Bradley armored vehicles and 155mm artillery.

“Remember the story of the German Leopards — the answer was also ‘no,’” he added. “And now we have a tank coalition. Therefore I believe an airplane coalition is within reach. But first there should always be a leader. And that’s why I’m here.”

Kyiv has repeatedly urged allies to send jets, calling them essential to challenging Russia’s air superiority and to ensure the success of future counteroffensives spearheaded by Western tanks.

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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.

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.”

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.

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.”

Croatia President Zoran Milanovic, meanwhile, criticized Western nations for supplying Ukraine with tanks and other weapons, arguing those deliveries will only prolong the war.