The United States will not send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, President Joe Biden said, as some Western allies mull heeding the war-torn Eastern European nation’s request for the advanced weaponry as it seeks to recapture control of its skies from Russia.
Ukrainian officials have launched a campaign to secure the U.S. aircraft from ally nations, and have intensified their push following Kyiv’s recent success in procuring commitments for tanks, including M1 Abrams from the United States and Leopard 2s from Germany.
Kyiv is reportedly seeking a fleet of the Lockheed Martin-manufactured single-engine aircraft to control its airspace and protect civilian infrastructure from Russia strikes.
Asked Monday afternoon after arriving at the White House from Baltimore, Md., if the United States would provide Kyiv with the jets, Biden responded by saying: “No.”
Biden’s one-word answer comes after Pentagon officials last week said arming Ukraine with the jets was not off the table and as Ukrainian officials suggested ally nations were inching toward the possibility of supplying them with the planes.
Over the course of the nearly one-year war, Ukrainian officials have requested increasingly advanced weaponry from partner nations, with the United States — its largest backer with donations of more than $27 billion in military assistance — being among those that have incrementally answered its calls.
On Thursday, Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters during a press conference that the F-16s are not “off the table” but that she wouldn’t state what may or may not be included in future assistance packages.
She also said the F-16s would require training, meaning more people would be pulled off the battlefield to learn the new system.
“In terms of, like, the Abrams, it is more the sustainment, the maintenance when it’s on the battlefield,” she said. “With the F-16s, again, another challenging system that would require training.”
Along with Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also signaled a reluctance to pledge the fighter jets, but Andriy Yermak, head of the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Poland and France have given positive signs over the possibility of procuring the weaponry.
On Tuesday, Yermak said on Telegram that “France does not exclude the supply of fighter jets to Ukraine.”
He said France’s position is that it may send them if the Ukrainian army needs them and that if doing so “does not lead to escalation” of the war.
Yermak also said Monday that Ukraine has received “positive signals from Poland, which is ready to pass [F-16s] on to us in coordination with NATO.
“Work on obtaining F-16 fighters continues,” he said.
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