Russia and Ukraine Battle for Bakhmut: Live Updates

credit…Radoslav Jozwiak/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted Western nations to supply an ever-growing list of weapons to Kyiv as it tries to defend itself: small arms to anti-tank weapons to artillery to missiles and tanks.

Such expansions — notably this month’s deal to begin supplying Ukraine with German and U.S.-made tanks — have promised equipment that previously seemed off limits.

So what about Ukrainian officials’ calls for some of its allies’ most powerful weapons: warplanes?

A top adviser to Mr. Zelensky, Andriy Yermak, suggested on Monday that Ukraine had begun pressuring NATO countries over the issue of military aircraft. says on Telegram that Kyiv had received “positive signals” from Poland regarding the F-16 fighter jets. Poland, injured defender to send German-made tanks to Ukraine, stressed that it was coordinating weapons decisions with other NATO members.

And Wopke Hoekstra, the foreign minister of another NATO member, the Netherlands, recently told Dutch lawmakers that the government would be willing to send American F-16s if the United States authorized the transfer.

On Monday, however, President Biden, when asked by a reporter if the United States would provide F-16 fighter jets, said it would not. The White House declined to comment on whether Mr. Biden ruled out using the planes entirely or just their immediate transfer.

Other leaders are more direct. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz repeated recently that Berlin will not send fighter jets to Ukraine. “That we are not talking about fighter jets is something that I made very clear very early on and I make it clear here,” he said in an announcement that Germany would send Ukraine tanks.

On Monday, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace acknowledged the questions about the planes in remarks to members of parliament.

“Since we took the fight to supply tanks to Ukraine, people have understandably asked what the next capability will be,” he said. “What we know about all these requests is that the initial answer is no, but the eventual answer is yes.”

Britain, Wallace said, would follow the progress of discussions between Western allies, but noted that military aid decisions were not “ad hoc.”

Last week, the US position appeared flexible. Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said then that she does not believe the United States has ever “drawn the line” on the weapons it is willing to supply, and emphasized that the US provides Ukraine with significant air defense capabilities.

But if Western nations provide advanced aircraft, training Ukrainian pilots will be a complicating factor, she said, requiring “more people to come off the battlefield to learn a whole new system.”

If fighter jets were sent, Ukrainian pilots would not be the only ones in need of training. The logistics required to maintain a fleet of aircraft unfamiliar to Ukrainian mechanics trained on Soviet-era equipment will be extensive and time-consuming.

And how exactly such aircraft will be used remains an open question. The proliferation of surface-to-air missiles on both sides ensured that air battles and bombing were rare compared to the heavy artillery battles that came to define the war.

The United States’ delivery of AGM-88 HARM anti-radar missiles, which began arriving in the summer, allowed Ukraine’s air force — largely made up of Soviet-era jets and helicopters — to launch its munitions far enough from the front lines to avoid be exposed to Russian air defenses.

The delivery of new aircraft “would reduce Ukraine’s disadvantage vis-à-vis the Russian air force and make it easier to use Western air munitions, but this is a lower priority issue, all things considered,” said Michael Koffman, director of Russian studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington, Virginia.

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