Biden rules out sending F-16s to Ukraine but Macron may still commit French fighter jets
Joe Biden has ruled out sending advanced F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, rejecting pleas from Volodymyr Zelensky.
The US president was addressing reporters at the White House on Monday night when he was asked if Washington would offer the single-engine multirole fighters to Kyiv. He replied simply, “No”.
The decision dealt a serious blow to Ukraine’s leaders, who had put the jets top of their latest weapons wishlist. Mr Zelensky’s government has repeatedly pressed the US for the modern aircraft, which would be a significant upgrade from the Ukrainian military's Soviet-era MiG and Sukhoi fighters.
Mr Biden, however, reiterated his commitment to his country's ally, saying he planned to visit neighbouring Poland around the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
Meanwhile, Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that France had not ruled out sending fighter jets to Ukraine, setting him on a collision course with Germany.
Mr Macron said that “nothing is excluded in principle”, but only if certain conditions are met and that it does not lead to an “escalation”.
His comments came just hours after Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, warned against a race to arm Ukraine with high-powered weapons.
Long accused of sitting on the fence over helping Ukraine militarily, Mr Scholz engineered a breakthrough with Joe Biden to send modern tanks to Ukraine earlier this month.
However, he reiterated on Monday that he would not extend weapons deliveries to fighter jets, a stance that is now in contrast to France and other Western allies.
“I can only advise against entering into a constant competition to outbid each other when it comes to weapons systems,” Mr Scholz told the German news outlet Tagesspiegel.
Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian President, issued pleas over the weekend for long-range missiles and fighter jets as he seeks to strengthen the country’s air defences.
But Mr Scholz said, according to Germany Politico: “The question of combat aircraft does not arise at all.”
Mr Macron insisted on Monday that various “criteria” would have to be met before any French decision on sending jets could be made.
These include that the “request was formulated” by Ukraine; that the move is “not escalatory”; that it is “not likely to touch Russian soil but was to help the resistance effort”; and that “it does not contribute to weakening the capacity of the French army”.
His comments came days after Thomas Gassilloud, the head of France’s defence committee at the National Assembly, caused a stir when he told the Telegraph “all the doors” were open to discussions over sending planes to Kyiv.
It is understood that if France did send warplanes they would be the older Mirage 2000 models, not the latest Rafale jets.
Meanwhile, Jon Finer, the deputy national security adviser at the White House, said the US would be discussing the idea “very carefully” with Kyiv and its allies. “We have not ruled in or out any specific systems,” he said.
Rishi Sunak confirmed earlier this month that the UK would send a squadron of 14 British Challenger II tanks to Ukraine and that the British Army would teach Ukrainian troops how to operate the vehicles.
While Britain has no official plans to provide fighter jets, the Telegraph understands that the British Army is concerned that the RAF and Royal Navy are not pulling their weight in providing support for Ukraine.
But while one senior RAF source stressed “never say never” over the possibility of sending jets, they cautioned “it’s not the priority now”.
They added that such a scenario might come when “Russia is kicked out of Ukraine and there is a need for the Ukranians to conduct an air policing mission to protect their airspace”.
Another senior defence source defended the lack of RAF and Navy support because “tanks are how you break through lines”.
The US plans to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, and Germany, the maker of Leopard 2 battle tanks, said it would send 14 and approve other countries’ requests to do the same.
Moscow has painted the provision of tanks as “direct involvement” in the war, despite Mr Biden’s insistence that the move is “not an offensive threat” to Russia.
On Sunday, Mr Zelensky urged the West to send fighter jets and long-range missiles.
“Russia hopes to drag out the war, to exhaust our forces,” he said.
“So we have to make time our weapon. We must speed up the events, speed up the supply and opening of new necessary weaponry options for Ukraine.”
The debate came as Poland announced a sharp increase in defence spending, saying the change was needed because of the Ukraine war.
Poland has a military budget of just less than 2.5 per cent of its GDP, but its prime minister said he wants to increase the figure to four per cent this year.