In a Sharp Reversal, Biden Opens a Path for Ukraine to Get Fighter Jets

In a Sharp Reversal, Biden Opens a Path for Ukraine to Get Fighter Jets

Several US officials said President Biden told US allies on Friday that he would allow Ukrainian pilots to train on US-made F-16 fighter jets, adding that the president is ready to allow other countries to hand over F-16 aircraft to Ukraine – a major step in the build-up of the Ukrainian military and a sharp turnaround.

Ever since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine 15 months ago, Kiev officials have been urging advanced fighter jets to overcome Russian air superiority. But Mr. Biden has fought back over concerns the jets could be used to hit targets deep in Russia, prompting the Kremlin to escalate the conflict. Pentagon officials said other weapons, particularly air defense systems, were more needed and the F-16’s high cost could crowd out other materials.

But several European countries that belong to the NATO alliance and have F-16s in their arsenals have called for international efforts to ensure the training and transfer of their jets to Ukraine. This would require an American permit as the guns were first sold to them by the United States. While the F-16 isn’t the most advanced US fighter jet, it does have powerful radar capable of detecting targets hundreds of miles away, as well as advanced missiles and other technology that American authorities don’t want copied or fall into enemy hands.

Mr. Biden shared his decision on pilot training, which paved the way for supplying Ukraine with fighter jets, to other leaders of the G7 countries, the world’s wealthiest democracies, at their summit in Hiroshima, Japan, multiple officials said when asked communicated anonymity in order to be able to speak openly about sensitive deliberations.

They said the United States and its allies would discuss how to self-supply Kiev with the jets in the coming months, and a senior administration official said the White House was ready to approve the move. The United States is not expected to send any F-16s of its own, at least under current plans.

“I applaud the historic decision by the United States and @POTUS to support an international fighter jet coalition. “This will significantly strengthen our army in the sky,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is expected to address the Group of Seven this weekend, wrote on Twitter.

In a joint statement, the allied leaders said they were determined “to continue our security assistance to Ukraine while it defends against Russian aggression and to tailor our support to Ukraine’s needs.” The group pledged to provide “financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support to Ukraine for as long as necessary”.

Earlier on Friday, Mr Zelenskyy was speaking at an Arab League summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he questioned many Arab countries’ neutral stance on the war and implored them to help in rescuing Ukrainians “from the cages of Russian prisons”. to help.

“Unfortunately there are some in the world and here among you who turn a blind eye to these cages and illegal annexations,” he said. “I’m here so everyone can have an honest look, no matter how much the Russians try to influence.”

Western officials said Mr Zelenskyy planned to travel to Hiroshima this weekend to attend the summit. However, Ukrainian officials gave conflicting information: some said he would appear in person, others said he would talk to the leaders via video transmission. The vagueness appears to reflect security concerns as Mr. Zelenskyj travels the globe in search of aid and weapons; He was in several European countries last week and also in Saudi Arabia on Friday.

Ukraine is expected to soon launch a major counteroffensive in hopes of recapturing more territory that Russia had captured earlier in the war. Delivery of fighter jets would take months, too late to affect that plan.

Group of Seven leaders in Hiroshima spent much of the day discussing the impending counteroffensive and their chances of forcing Russia to the negotiating table to discuss some form of ceasefire that would end the fighting, albeit through it the central issues of the conflict would not be resolved by war.

They are also poised to unveil a series of new sanctions and export controls to further limit the Kremlin’s ability to fund the war and crack down on third countries that have been secretly supplying Russia with banned technologies that can be used in Russian weapons systems.

The allies appear determined to demonstrate their collective determination to support Ukraine at a time when Russian President Vladimir V. Putin appears to be betting that their interest and commitment will wane.

Mr. Biden’s changed stance on F-16s is his latest about-face, allowing Ukraine to deploy advanced weapons including HIMARS missile launchers, Patriot anti-aircraft missile systems and Abrams tanks. In both cases, the President initially refused, but changed his mind under pressure from European allies.

Senior Pentagon officials have consistently stated that they do not believe Ukraine needs F-16s at this stage of the conflict.

Celeste A. Wallander, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told the House Armed Services Committee last month that advanced Western fighter jets ranked only “about eighth” on Ukraine’s list of priorities. She said officials were focusing on resources with “the highest priority capabilities, and those are air defenses, artillery and armor.”

But the push by Ukraine and her supporters in Congress for F-16 aircraft was reinforced this week when Yahoo News reported that an internal US Air Force assessment concluded that training Ukrainian pilots to operate the fighters only four months, a far shorter time frame than Pentagon officials had previously cited.

The document, which a senior Air Force official confirmed and said it had been shared with several NATO allies flying F-16s, included a detailed assessment that was made at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona, in late February and early March. was carried out. Two Ukrainian pilots were there. According to the assessment, they received “no formal training” on the F-16 apart from a brief familiarization and were then tested for several hours on a flight simulator.

An appearance by Mr. Zelenskyy before the Group of Seven would be a sharp rebuff for Mr. Putin and a reminder of how much the relations with Russia have deteriorated. Thirty years ago, President Clinton met in Japan with Boris Yeltsin, then President of Russia, to begin planning the integration of post-Soviet Russia into the world economy, while Clinton vowed to seek the lifting of Cold War sanctions. Five years later, Russia joined the Group of 8.

Now it’s all reversed. After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, it was suspended from the group and left it altogether three years later. Russia’s economy is struggling with the sanctions imposed since last year’s invasion, particularly the price cap on its oil sales, and more are to come.

Britain on Friday said it would implement a ban on Russian diamonds, copper, aluminum and nickel. Australia also announced on Friday that it would impose new financial sanctions on 21 companies and three individuals, including Russia’s largest gold company, oil and steel companies and defense contractors.

The United States also introduced a “significant package” of restrictions, including barring another 70 companies from American exports and adding more than 200 individuals and entities to its sanctions list. The aim of the measures is to take action against people or companies who help Moscow to circumvent existing sanctions.

The new round of sanctions “will further limit Putin’s ability to carry out his barbaric invasion and spur our global efforts to stem Russian attempts to evade sanctions,” Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said in a statement on Friday.

The United States will expand its sanctions to cover more areas of Russia’s economy and increase its ability to purchase semiconductors and other high-tech goods from the Group of Seven, which American officials said on Friday are for Russia’s ability to build weapons is crucial. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in a press release that the new sanctions would target components Russia needs to build a drone currently deployed in Ukraine.

The new penalties are also aimed at restricting Russia’s ability to drill for oil and gas and punishing venture capitalists and financial services firms that American officials say back sanctioned Russian companies.

Goods that Western companies are now banned from selling to Russian buyers often get to them through intermediaries — changing hands, jurisdiction, and free trade zones multiple times. Trade is difficult to track and harder to enforce, especially for “dual-use” items that have both civilian and military purposes.

With many of Russia’s other revenue streams squeezed by previous rounds of sanctions, authorities are focusing on diamonds as a lucrative trade that still provides money for Moscow’s war. Russia is the world’s largest supplier of small diamonds, exporting more than $4.5 billion in 2021. This makes the gem the largest non-energy export in terms of value.