Western allies differ over jets for Ukraine as Russia claims gains

  • Biden says ‘no’ when asked about F-16s for Ukraine
  • Zelenskiy says Moscow seeks ‘great revenge’
  • The Russian administrator claims a place in Vuhledar
  • Kyiv will be able to get back the land with Western weapons to come – group

KYIV, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Ukraine’s defense minister is expected to meet in Paris on Tuesday with President Emmanuel Macron among Kyiv allies amid a debate over whether to scrap a fighter jet for war against Russia, after US President Joe Biden ruled out giving F. 16s.

Ukraine has ordered fourth-generation fighter jets like the West’s F-16s after stockpiling its main warships last week, Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Friday.

Asked at the White House on Monday if the United States would provide F-16s, Biden told reporters: “No.”

But France and Poland appear to be willing to accept something from Ukraine, with Macron telling reporters in The Hague on Monday that “by definition nothing is excluded” when it comes to military aid.

Speaking on French television before Biden spoke in Washington, Macron justified such a move by several factors, including the need to avoid proliferation and warnings that the aircraft “do not touch Russian soil.” Reznikov said he also met Frenchman Sebastiens Lecornu in Paris.

In Poland on Monday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also did not order the supply of F-16s to neighboring Ukraine, in response to a question from a reporter before Biden spoke.

Morawiecki said in comments posted on his website that any such transfer would take place “in full coordination” with NATO nations.

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Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, noted “positive signs” from Poland and said France “does not rule out” such a move in individual posts on his Telegram channel.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was in Japan on Tuesday, where he thanked Tokyo for providing “aircraft and cargo facilities” to Ukraine. The day before, South Korea urged Seoul to increase its military aid to Ukraine.

Biden’s comments came shortly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia would exact its revenge for Ukraine’s resistance to its invasion of the east, where it appeared incremental gains were being made.

Zelenskiy has warned for weeks that Moscow intends to go on the offensive after nearly two months of virtual stalemate along the front line that stretches across the southeast and east.

Ukraine won a huge boost last week when Germany and the United States announced plans to provide heavy tanks, ending weeks of diplomatic deadlock over the event.

With no sign of a broader new Russian offensive, the administrator of the Russian-controlled part of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk province, Dionysius Pushilin, said Russian forces were digging in Vuhledar, a coal-mining town whose ruins had been a Ukrainian stronghold. from the beginning of the war.

Pushilin said that despite “huge losses” Ukrainian forces are consolidating conditions in industrial facilities.

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‘A fight for every meter’

Pushilin said that Ukrainian forces are laying reinforcements in Bakhmut, Maryinka and Vuhledar, towns running from north to south just southwest of Donetsk city. Russia’s state news agency TASS quoted him as saying that Russian forces are advancing there, but “I don’t understand, that is, the fight here is for literally every meter.”

Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said Ukraine still controlled Maryinka and Vuhledar, where the Russian attack on Monday was slower.

Author Pushilin Yan Gagin said fighters from Wagner’s Russian mercenary forces took part of the supply route to Bakhmut, a city that has been a focus for Moscow for months.

The day before, Wagner’s head said his fighters had captured Blahodatne, a village just north of Bakhmut, although Kyiv said the attack on Blahodatne had been withdrawn.

Reuters could not independently verify reports of the battle. But the reported places of battle clearly indicate, though gradually, Russian gains.

In the central region of Zaporizhzhia and in the southern region of Kherson, Russian forces have established more than 40 headquarters, the General Staff of Ukraine said. The targets included the city of Kherson, where the massacres were taking place.

The Russians also launched four rocket attacks on Ochakiv, south of Mykolaiv, the army said, on the day Zelenskiy met with the Danish prime minister in the northern city of Mykolaiv.

Western expansions

Zelenskiy is urging the West to speed up the delivery of its promised weapons so that Ukraine can move forward, but most of the hundreds of tanks from Western countries are months away from delivery.

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British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said the 14 fighter jets donated by Britain would be on the front line around April or May without exact pause.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that supplying Western countries with arms “leads NATO countries to become more and more directly involved in the conflict – but it does not have the power to change the course of events and does not.”

A US-based think tank for the study of war said that “the failure of the West to provide the necessary material” last year was the main reason that the Kyiv developments stopped since November.

The researchers said in the report that Ukraine could still recover territory once the promised weapons arrive.

The Belarusian defense ministry said on Tuesday that Russia and Belarus have begun a week-long staff training session in preparation for joint drills in Russia in September.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow justifies as necessary to protect itself from its neighbor’s ties to the West, has killed tens of thousands of people and driven millions from their homes.

Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Doina Chiacu and Stephen Coates wrote; Cynthia Osterman & Simon Cameron-Moore

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