France could meet Ukraine's demand for fighter jets

US F-16 fighter jet - PA
US F-16 fighter jet - PA

France could agree to Volodymyr Zelensky’s demands for fighter jets to defend Ukraine’s skies, the chairman of the French defence committee said on Thursday.

It came as the UK confirmed that British tanks would arrive in Ukraine in time for an expected Russian spring offensive, joining German-made Leopards being sent to Kyiv within weeks.

“Everyone should feel very proud of the leadership role that we have played, one of the early nations to provide tanks to Ukraine," said Rishi Sunak, the prime minister.

One of the next steps up in Western military aid would be planes.

'Danes and Eastern Europeans thinking about it'

Thomas Gassilloud said Paris had conditions on that issue but did not rule out France sending planes to Kyiv in another stepping up of Western support for Ukraine.

“Regarding deliveries to Ukraine, we must study requests on a case-by-case basis and leave all the doors open,” he said after talks in London with his British counterpart Tobias Ellwood and Ben Wallace, the Defence Minister.

"So we will see in the coming weeks what happens next as things are moving fast," he added. "The Danes and Eastern Europe countries are thinking about it."

The conditions are that any donations of aircraft do not undermine French or European security and that they are useful for Ukraine.

The French government could be prepared to offer some of its older generation planes - likely Dassault Mirages - but Paris is aware of the difficulties in training both Ukrainian pilots and the 10 support staff needed for a jet.

The final condition is that president Emmanuel Macron does not judge the deliveries of the fighter jets to be a risk of escalating the war in Ukraine into a war between Russia and Nato.

Defence policy is the responsibility of Mr Macron and his defence council but Mr Gassilloud, a veteran and ally of the French president, is an influential voice outside it.

The Elysee have been asked to comment.

'Nuclear weapons only thing we won't get'

Volodymyr Zelensky urged the West to send Kyiv long-range missiles and fighter jets after the US and Germany promised Abrams and Leopard battle tanks.

Eleven people were killed and another 11 wounded in several waves of Russian drone and missile strikes on Kyiv and other cities on Thursday.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine the idea of supplying lethal aid was highly controversial but the West has since shattered taboo after taboo.

Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, told German lawmakers that there “would be no fighter jet deliveries to Ukraine” on Wednesday.

Kyiv will take heart from Mr Scholz’s repeated U-turns on weapons deliveries to Ukraine since Russia’s illegal invasion in February last year.

Yuriy Sak, who advises defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov, said Ukraine will now push for Western fourth-generation fighter jets such as the US F-16 to replace its Soviet-era aircraft.

"They didn't want to give us Himars systems, then they did. They didn't want to give us tanks, now they're giving us tanks. Apart from nuclear weapons, there is nothing left that we will not get," he said.

Following Germany and the US's announcements this week, Canada on Thursday night confirmed it would send four Leopards. Poland also announced that it would urgently start preparing tank crews for deliveries of the Leopard 2.

Warsaw is at the forefront of an international coalition of European allies working to send between 90 and 100 of the vehicles to Ukraine.