Thursday, 30 Mar 2023

Ukraine and West in ‘fast track’ talks for fighter jets and missiles

Ukraine: Zelenskyy’s request for F-16 jets discussed by expert

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Ukraine and its Western allies are engaged in “fast-track” talks on the possibility of equipping the invaded country with long-range missiles and military aircraft, a top Ukrainian presidential aide has said. After “critical” main battle tanks were pledged to Ukraine by the German and US governments on Wednesday, Ukraine is now looking to further bolster its forces as Russia prepares for a spring offensive and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of newly mobilised soldiers. It comes as reports suggest defence officials in the US are now leaning on the Pentagon to consider sending F-16 fighter jets to Kyiv.

In what the Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba has called the “end of the weapons taboo”, the West is being called upon to deliver evermore offensive military equipment.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Ukraine’s supporters in the West now “understand how the war is developing” and the need to supply planes capable of providing cover for the armoured fighting vehicles that the United States and Germany pledged at the beginning of the month.

However, in remarks to online video channel Freedom, Mr Podolyak said that some of Ukraine’s Western partners still maintain a “conservative” attitude to arms deliveries, “due to fear of changes in the international architecture.”

North Korea, for example, has now joined Russia in accusing the West of prolonging and taking a direct role in the war by sending Kyiv increasingly sophisticated weapons.

Mr Podolyak said: “We need to work with this. We must show (our partners) the real picture of this war,” without naming specific countries.

He added: “We must speak reasonably and tell them, for example, ‘This and this will reduce fatalities, this will reduce the burden on infrastructure. This will reduce security threats to the European continent, this will keep the war localised.’ And we are doing it.”

The US and Germany agreed on Wednesday to share advanced tanks with Ukraine along with the Bradley and Marder infantry fighting vehicles promised earlier this year, a decision that led to criticism not only from the Kremlin but from the prime minister of NATO and European Union member Hungary.

President Joe Biden’s announcement that the US would send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine reversed months of arguments by Washington that they were too difficult for Ukrainian troops to operate and maintain.

The decision also persuaded German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who had expressed concern about a unilateral action drawing Russia’s wrath, to agree to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks from Germany’s stocks and to allow European countries with tanks to send some of theirs.

Kira Rudik, a leading opposition Ukrainian MP, highlighted the significance of the US U-turn on the Abrams M1 tanks, telling that when America “makes a decision like this, it means that everybody who looks to the US will follow”.

It has now been reported that defence officials within the US government are leaning on the Pentagon to send F-16s, according to Politico.

If these reports prove to be true, fighting between Ukraine and Russia will likely intensify as both sides look to launch offensives when the winter passes and the conditions become more conducive to combat.

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Russia bombarded Ukraine with missiles, exploding drones and artillery shells this week following the Western tank pledges, and the attacks continued on Saturday, when Russian missiles struck the city of Kostyantynivka in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk province.

The missiles fell in a residential area, killing three civilians, wounding 14, and damaging four high-rise apartment buildings, a hotel, and garages, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

He said: “Kostyantynivka is a city relatively far from the front line, but still, it constantly suffers from enemy attacks. Everyone who remains in the city exposes themselves to mortal danger.

“The Russians target civilians because they are not able to fight the Ukrainian army.”

Russian rockets also hit a residential area in the Donetsk town of Chasiv Yar on Friday night, killing two people and wounding five more, the governor said. Photos attached to Mr Kyrylenko’s post showed a three-story school building on fire.

Mr Podolyak, the presidential adviser, said Ukraine needs supplies of Western long-range missiles “to drastically curtail the key tool of the Russian army” by destroying the warehouses where it stores cannon artillery used on the front line.

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