US president Joe Biden has ruled out sending fighter jets to Ukraine “for now”, as the conflict passes its first anniversary.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly called for fighter jets from his Western allies to bolster his defences against Russian forces. He said that “wings for freedom” would allow Ukraine to enforce its air space and push back Russia.
But Mr Biden insisted there was “no rationale” for the move and said the US was providing everything Ukraine currently needed.
“He needs tanks. He needs artillery. He needs air defense, including another Himars [High Mobility Artillery Rocket System]. There’s things he needs now that we’re sending him to put him in a position to be able to make gains this spring and this summer going into the fall,” Mr Biden told ABC News.
“He doesn’t need F-16s now,” Mr Biden added. “There is no basis upon which there is a rationale, according to our military, now, to provide F-16s.”
When pressed on whether he is ruling out sending jets, he added: “I am ruling it out, for now.”
Many Western leaders, including UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, have said they would consider sending jets but have been hesitant to make the move. Many are concerned about escalating the conflict or weakening their own defences.
Some experts have warned that sending fighter jets could bring the West directly into the conflict.
Dr Marina Miron, a defence expert at King’s College London, said the donation would be seen as a direct threat by Russian President Vladimir Putin and that Russia “could even lure Ukrainians to cross Russian territory just to have a pretext to escalate this”.
“You have to have a lot of trust to give Ukraine fighter jets because if they strike Russia, it’s going to be hell. It will escalate immediately,” she told i.
Questions have also been raised about the effectiveness of Western-supplied jets in the conflict, given the long training time for pilots and the cost and complexity of maintaining them.
Downing Street has previously said that training Ukrainian forces on “extremely sophisticated” Typhoons and F-35s would take too long and result in a “prolonged stalemate” in the war that “would only benefit Russia”.
The former head of the Royal Navy also warned that the UK doesn’t have enough fighter jets to arm Ukraine and the Government must “think carefully” before doing so.
But Mr Sunak is facing political pressure to send the jets, not only from Ukraine, but within the UK. Former Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have both expressed support for doing so.
Poland has said it is ready to send Soviet-era MiG-29 jets to Ukraine but could only act with approval from fellow Nato members. Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger also told Mr Zelensky he was also ready to work on transferring MiG-29 jets.
US officials announced last month that they would supply 31 M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, hours after an agreement from Germany to provide 14 Leopard 2 tanks. The UK has previously committed 14 Challenger 2 tanks.