Biden Continues To Signal that F-16 Aircraft Are on the Way to Ukraine

The progression of events over the weekend shows that the United States and the West are close to providing advanced warplanes to Kyiv. After meeting with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Japan, President Joe Biden said he had received a “flat assurance” from Zelenskyy that he would not use Western-provided F-16 fighter jets to go into Russian territory. Despite the optimism, many civilians are frustrated. The aircraft could have saved many more lives.

Although the U.S. has not officially authorized delivery, Ukraine is already preparing to receive advanced F-16 aircraft to continue its fight against the Russian army. Over the weekend, there was a small breakthrough that brought Kyiv closer to receiving the advance U.S.-manufactured. However, even if the U.S. approves delivery soon, it will still take some time before the aircraft arrives. At the end of his meeting with Ukraine’s president on Sunday, President Biden said that Zelenskyy promised him personally that no F-16 transferred to Ukraine would be used for attacks in Russian territory, except “wherever Russian troops are within Ukraine and the area.”

Biden provided an update to his allies at the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, saying he is authorizing the training of Ukrainian pilots on the warplanes. Only a day earlier, The New York Times reported that Washington would not be authorizing the aircraft. Several hours after Biden’s approval, NBC citied a senior American official saying that the United States and its allies “plan to supply F-16 aircraft to Ukraine, although the U.S. has not indicated when it intends to do so.

At the same time, Russia warned the United States and its allies saying that any transfer of F-16s to Ukraine would cause colossal consequences. Despite the threatening message, we should remember that Moscow threatened the West after its decision to send advanced tanks to Ukraine. We should question the measure of that threat and Russia’s current means of deterrence. Except for the possibility of using nuclear weapons, this scenario, despite all threats, appears unlikely, even hypothetical.

The United States, a country that has, at this point, provided the greatest amount of military and economic support to Ukraine valued at tens of billions of dollars, continues to be the country that sets the broadest restrictions on the supply of advanced weapons to Kyiv. Until now, it is striking that the British and French have expressed much greater support for supplying aircraft to Ukraine; yet Kyiv is primarily interested in receiving American F-16s, something that requires congressional approval. The United States s being dragged into making a decision on supplying tanks after Germany conditioned its supply on American approval. Also, Washington currently is adamant about not sending long-range missiles despite repeated requests from Ukraine and despite Britain having already done so.

The announcement of Biden’s approval to train Ukrainian pilots together with a report from a senior official adds to the assessment that Ukraine is nevertheless expected to soon receive approval for the aircraft. Recently, Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov emphasized the importance of receiving the aircraft along with long-range missiles for continuing the fight against Russia. The Ukrainians firmly hold that any use of these weapons will be in territory occupied by the Russians in Ukraine and will not be used to attack areas inside Russia itself. According to Reznikov’s statement, Ukraine needs the same quality weapons in order to attack the Russian army’s supply lines far from the war front, including targets located dozens and even hundreds of miles away from the front lines. Reznikov asserts that it will be easy to liberate the occupied territory once Ukraine dispatches forces to attack the supply lines and cut off Russian forces on the front lines.

“F-16s to Ukraine,” tweeted British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak over the weekend following Biden’s approval to train Ukrainian pilots. The training is estimated to take four months, and many countries, including Denmark and Portugal, have already announced their agreement to train pilots. In any event, in the West, they are saying that if and when the aircraft are authorized for delivery to Ukraine, the West will not be able to help Ukraine in the upcoming major counteroffensive.

In January, Reznikov said that he expected Ukraine to receive warplanes “within a month,” and, in fact, in less than 30 days, Poland announced the transfer of MiG-29 aircraft, followed by a similar announcement from Slovakia. Prior to this, after announcements from Berlin and Washington on transferring Leopard and Abrams tanks, the Ukraine Defense Ministry said, “In the end, apart from nuclear weapons, we receive everything that we ask for from the West.”

In addition to these statements, Ukrainian citizens have recently expressed frustration and criticism. Many in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities are protesting the heavy human toll Ukraine was forced to pay before the West approved “the next stage” of advanced weapons. They claim that if the Western countries had agreed from the beginning to transfer these weapons to the Ukraine army, the war might already have ended and many lives would have been spared.

About this publication

About Charles Railey 62 Articles
I recently retired from the federal government, having worked for many years on Middle East issues and regional media. My fascination with the region has never changed and this is one reason why the work of Watching America caught my eye. I live in the DC area with my wife, two grown children, and three cats.

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