Western allies at odds over jets for Ukraine as Russia claims features

  • Biden says “no” when asked about F-16s for Ukraine
  • Zelenskyj says Moscow seeks “great revenge”.
  • The Russian administrator claims to gain a foothold in Vuhledar
  • Kyiv could regain ground if western arms arrive – group

Kyiv, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Ukraine’s defense minister is expected to meet President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Tuesday amid a debate among Kiev’s allies over whether to provide warplanes for its war against Russia, after US President Joe Biden ruled out , F-16s.

Ukraine plans to push for Western fourth-generation fighter jets like the F-16 after securing main battle tank supplies last week, an adviser to Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Friday.

When asked Monday at the White House if the United States would make F-16s available, Biden told reporters, “No.”

But France and Poland appear ready to accept such a request from Ukraine, with Macron telling reporters in The Hague on Monday that “nothing is ruled out by definition” when it comes to military aid.

In remarks on French television before Biden spoke in Washington, Macron stressed that such a move would depend on several factors, including the need to avoid escalation and assurances that the plane would “not touch Russian soil.” He said Reznikov will also meet with his French counterpart Sebastien Lecornu in Paris on Tuesday.

In Poland, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also didn’t rule out a possible delivery of F-16s to neighboring Ukraine on Monday, in response to a reporter’s question before Biden spoke.

Morawiecki said in comments on his website that any such transfer would be “in full coordination” with NATO countries.

Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian president’s office, noted “positive signals” from Poland in separate posts on his Telegram channel and said France “does not rule out such a move”.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was in Japan on Tuesday, where he thanked Tokyo for the “aircraft and cargo capacity” it is providing to Ukraine. A day earlier, in South Korea, he had called on Seoul to step up its military support for Ukraine.

Biden’s comment came shortly after Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia had begun to retaliate for Ukraine’s resistance to its invasion with relentless attacks in the east, where it appeared to be making increasing gains.

Zelenskyy has been warning for weeks that Moscow plans to step up its attack along the frontline stretching south and east after about two months of virtual stalemate.

Ukraine received a huge boost last week when Germany and the United States announced plans to supply heavy tanks, ending weeks of diplomatic deadlocks over the issue.

While there were no signs of a broader new Russian offensive, administrator of Russian-controlled parts of eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk province Denis Pushilin said Russian troops had gained a foothold in Vuhledar, a coal-mining town whose ruins have been a Ukrainian bastion since the war began.

Pushilin said that despite “huge casualties,” Ukrainian forces were consolidating their positions at industrial sites.

“FIGHT FOR EVERY METER”

Pushilin said Ukrainian forces dropped reinforcements on Bakhmut, Maryinka and Vuhledar, towns running north-south west of the city of Donetsk. The Russian state news agency TASS quoted him as saying that Russian troops were advancing there, but “inconclusively, which means that there is literally a fight for every meter here”.

Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said Ukraine still controls Maryinka and Vuhledar, where Russian attacks were less intense on Monday.

Pushilin’s adviser Yan Gagin said fighters from Russia’s mercenary group Wagner had partially seized control of a supply road leading to Bakhmut, a town Moscow has been focusing on for months.

A day earlier, the head of Wagner said his fighters had secured Blahodatne, a village north of Bakhmut, although Kyiv said it repelled attacks on Blahodatne.

Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports. But the locations of reported fighting showed clear, if gradual, Russian gains.

In the central Zaporizhia region and southern Kherson region, Russian forces shelled more than 40 settlements, Ukraine’s general staff said. Targets included the city of Kherson, where there were casualties.

The Russians also launched four rocket attacks on Ochakiv in southern Mykolaiv, the army said on the day Zelenskyi met the Danish prime minister in the northeastern town of Mykolaiv.

WESTERN DELAYS

Zelenskyy is urging the West to speed up delivery of its promised weapons so Ukraine can go on the offensive, but most of the hundreds of tanks pledged by Western countries are months away from delivery.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the 14 Challenger tanks donated by Britain would be on the front line in April or May, without giving a precise timetable.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the arms shipments from Western countries “are leading NATO countries to become more and more directly involved in the conflict – but it doesn’t have the potential to change the course of things, and it won’t do it.”

The US-based think tank Institute for the Study of War said “the West’s failure to provide the necessary material” over the past year has been the main reason Kyiv’s progress has been halted since November.

The researchers said in a report that Ukraine could still retake territory once the promised weapons arrive.

Belarus’ Defense Ministry said Tuesday that Russia and Belarus began a week-long staff training session in preparation for joint exercises in Russia in September.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow justifies as necessary to protect itself from its neighbor’s links with the West, has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions from their homes.

Reporting by Reuters bureaus; writing by Doina Chiacu and Stephen Coates; Edited by Cynthia Osterman & Simon Cameron-Moore

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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