(CNSNews.com) – President Biden on Monday ruled out providing F-16 fighters to Ukraine, after reports that some Department of Defense officials are pushing for U.S. jets to be sent to Kyiv to bolster its defenses against the Russian invasion.
“Will the United States provide F-16s to Ukraine?” a reporter asked Biden after Marine One returned him to the White House following a visit to Baltimore, Md.
“No,” the president replied, without elaborating.
Biden’s blunt response came a day after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told a German newspaper that his government would not send fighter jets to Ukraine.
Kyiv has started to urge allies to help create a “coalition” of fighters – including U.S. F-16s, German Tornado jets, French Rafales, Swedish Gripens, and Eurofighter Typhoons (used by Britain, Spain, and others) – as the first anniversary of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion approaches.
Scholz pointed out that Germany has only just agreed to supply Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine – after coming under mounting pressure from allies to do so. He told Tagesspiegel that it seemed “frivolous” to now immediately switch to a debate on jets, when the decision on tanks has just been made.
Biden last week announced that the U.S. will send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, in a decision linked to the German one regarding the Leopards. Days earlier Britain announced that it would supply Ukraine’s armed forces with 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks.
The Abrams decision marked a reversal for the administration, after officials had argued for months that the sophisticated, heavy-duty vehicles would not be suitable for Ukraine’s armed forces.
While Britain said its transfer could occur in “the coming weeks,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the Abrams tanks would not reach Ukraine “for many months.” The German transfer will likely be somewhere between the two. Military analysts predict Russia will mount a major offensive in the spring.
Moscow has warned that the provision by the West of modern tanks would mark a dangerous escalation in the conflict. It has issued similar warnings about fighter jets.
Politico reported at the weekend that a campaign inside the Pentagon to supply F-16s to Ukraine was picking up steam, although a DoD spokesperson said there was “nothing to announce regarding F-16s.”
In The Hague on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron when asked about the possibility of sending Rafale fighters to Ukraine replied that “nothing is excluded in principle.”
But he said certain criteria would apply, including that any weapons transfer should not weaken France’s own defense capabilities, should not be “escalatory,” and should be provided only to support Ukraine’s defense effort, not to carry out attacks on Russian soil.
Macron also said that France had yet to receive any such request from Kyiv. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov is due to meet with his French counterpart and with Macron in Paris on Tuesday.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, asked at a press conference about the possibility of Poland sending F-16 fighters from its fleet to Ukraine, said any such transfer to its neighbor would only occur in “full coordination” with NATO.
‘The eventual response is yes’
The subject also came up in the House of Commons in London, where British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace was asked about reports on the possibility of the “creation of a fighter jet coalition with Ukraine.”
“Since we took on the battle over getting tanks to Ukraine, people are understandably asking what will be the next capability,” Wallace replied. “What we know about all these demands is that the initial response is no, but the eventual response is yes.”
“We will track the progress, but, as I have said, it is not ad hoc,” he said. “It is based on need and on defining what is needed on the battlefield. We will of course keep our minds open all the time about what it is possible to do next.”
Russian missiles have been targeting Ukrainian infrastructure and population centers for months, and deploying modern fighters – rather than ageing Soviet-era planes – could help its air force to regain some control over the airspace.
“Jets are important because it is a part of our effort to get Russian rockets down,” Ukrainian ambassador to Berlin Oleksii Makeiev told Deutsche Welle. “Because, you know, this is the most dangerous thing that we unfortunately have to face every day – Russia launches lots of missiles towards Ukrainian cities, towards infrastructure, and the jets are a part of our air defense efforts.”
At a Pentagon briefing last Thursday, deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh was asked about Ukraine’s requests for F-16s.
“It seems like we keep pushing the envelope on what we’re sending as the war evolves,” a reporter commented. “So, I was curious what is the new line for us here?”
“Well, I don’t know that we’ve ever drawn a line,” Singh said. “We’ve certainly – you know, we’re not going to take anything off the table here.”
She said Ukraine has made “incredible use of some of the air [defense system] capabilities” that the U.S. and other partners have provided.
As for what comes next, she added, “I’m not going to get ahead of any packages that haven’t been announced, or any decision by the president or the secretary.”
Asked why the DoD has not regarded fighter jets to be something Ukraine needs up to now, Singh said, “We have not said that they don’t need air support. That’s why we’re providing them air defenses. So I’d kind of push back on the characterization of that question.”
“But again, I’m just not going to get ahead of any future package that we – that we have to announce.”
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