President Joe Biden is moving closer to allowing Ukraine to have F-16 fighter jets, an about-face after pushing off similar requests earlier this year.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has asked the United States and Europe for months to supply his besieged military with F-16 fighter jets to counter Russian control of the skies over Ukraine. Biden rejected the request earlier this year, saying that the Ukrainian military did not need the fighter jets at that point. U.S. officials have also considered giving Ukraine fighter jets too escalatory in the war with Russia.
Biden seems to have reconsidered his prior stance, saying over the weekend that he had received assurances from Zelensky that, should Ukraine receive F-16s, the jets would not be used over Russian soil. Zelensky promised that the fighter jets would be used “wherever Russian troops are within Ukraine and the area,” Biden said, according to Reuters.
On Friday, Biden said that Ukrainian pilots could train on how to operate the American fighter jet in the U.S. — Biden’s change of mind came less than a week after the U.K. gave Ukraine a similar offer.
The U.S. has held out on approving F-16s for Ukraine against lobbying from Ukraine as well as European countries that support the idea. The United States is not the only country with F-16s, but because other countries received their jets from the United States, giving Ukraine the planes requires U.S. approval.
Moscow has warned against providing Ukraine F-16s, saying that such escalation would be a “colossal risk.”
“We see that western countries are still adhering to the escalation scenario. It involves colossal risks for themselves. In any case, this will be taken into account in all our plans, and we have all the necessary means to achieve the goals we have set,” said Alexander Grushko, Russia’s deputy foreign minister.
Following Biden’s decision to allow Ukrainian pilots to train on the F-16 in the United States, Zelensky issued a statement thanking the U.S. president.
“I welcome the historic decision of the United States and @POTUS to support an international fighter jet coalition. This will greatly enhance our army in the sky,” Zelensky said on Twitter.
I welcome the historic decision of the United States and @POTUS to support an international fighter jet coalition. This will greatly enhance our army in the sky. I count on discussing the practical implementation of this decision at the #G7 summit in Hiroshima.
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) May 19, 2023
Russia claimed to have captured the Eastern Ukraine city of Bakhmut over the weekend, the site of some of the heaviest combat of the Ukraine-Russia war. Ukrainian Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskiy appeared to confirm the reports from Russia until Zelensky later denied the reports at the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan.
On Monday, Russia said that a group of Ukrainian commandos crossed into Russian territory in its Belgorod region. Ukraine said the force was acting independently and did not enter Russian territory on orders from Kiev, according to The Wall Street Journal.