Western allies divided over Ukraine jets as Russia claims gain

  • Asked about Ukraine’s F-16s, Biden says ‘no’
  • Zelensky says Moscow seeks ‘big revenge’
  • Russian administrator claims firm foothold in Vuhledar
  • Kyiv may retake positions as Western weapons arrive – groups

Kyiv, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Ukraine’s defense minister is expected to meet President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Tuesday after U.S. President Joe Biden ruled out giving the F-16 second.

Ukraine plans to push for the purchase of Western fourth-generation fighter jets such as the F-16 after securing supplies of main battle tanks last week, an adviser to Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Friday.

Asked at the White House on Monday whether the U.S. would supply the F-16, Biden told reporters: “No.”

But France and Poland appeared willing to accept any such request 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 ahead of Biden’s speech in Washington, Macron stressed that any such move would depend on several factors, including the need to avoid escalation and assurances that the plane would not “touch Russian territory.” Reznikov will also meet his French foreign minister, Sebastien Le Cornou, in Paris on Tuesday, he said.

In Poland on Monday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki took questions from reporters before Biden spoke and did not rule out the possibility of supplying F-16s to neighboring Ukraine.

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

Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian president’s office, noted “positive signals” from Poland and said France “does not rule out” such a move in different posts on its Telegram channel.

Biden’s comments came shortly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia appeared to be making incremental gains in the east, where it had begun retaliating for Ukraine’s resistance to the invasion by launching relentless attacks in the east.

Zelensky has been warning for weeks that Moscow intends to step up its offensive after about two months of a near standoff on the front across the south and east.

Ukraine got a huge boost last week when Germany and the United States announced plans to supply heavy tanks, ending weeks of diplomatic standoff over the issue.

While there was no sign of a broader new Russian offensive, Denis Pushilin, the administrator of parts of Russia-controlled eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk province, said Russian forces had gained a foothold in Vuhledar, a coal mining town, Its ruins have been a Ukrainian fortress since the outbreak of the war.

Pushilin said Ukrainian troops were consolidating their positions at industrial facilities despite “heavy losses.”

“Fight for every meter”

Pushilin said the Ukrainian army was sending reinforcements to Bakhmut, Malinka and Uledar, which stretch from north to south west of the city of Donetsk. Russian state news agency TASS quoted him as saying that Russian troops were making progress there, but “it is not clear, that is, there is a battle for almost every meter here.”

Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said Ukraine still controls Maryinka and Vuhledar and that Russia’s attack on Monday was less intense.

Yan Gagin, an adviser to Pushilin, said fighters from the Russian mercenary Wagner had taken partial control of the supply road to Bakhmut, a city that has been a focus for Moscow for months.

A day earlier, Wagner’s chief said his fighters had captured Blahodatne, a village north of Bakhmut, although Kyiv said it repelled an attack on Blahodatne.

Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports. But the reported locations of fighting suggest that Russia has made clear progress, albeit incremental.

The Ukrainian General Staff said Russian troops shelled more than 40 settlements in the central Zaporozhye region and the southern Kherson region. Targets included the city of Kherson, where there were casualties.

The Russians also launched four rocket attacks on Ochakif, south of Nikolayev, on the day Zelensky met with the Danish prime minister in the northeastern city of Nikolayev, the military said.

western delay

Zelensky has urged the West to speed up deliveries of the weapons it has promised so Ukraine can continue its offensive, but most of the hundreds of tanks promised by the West are still months away.

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the 14 Challenger tanks donated by the UK would be on the front line around April or May, but did not give an exact timetable.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the supply of weapons by Western countries had led to “increasing direct involvement of NATO countries in conflicts – but it has no potential to change the course of events and will not do so.”

The US-based Institute for War Research think tank said last year’s “failure from the West to provide the necessary materiel” was the main reason why Kyiv had stalled its advance since November.

Ukraine could still retake the territory once the promised weapons arrive, the researchers said in a report.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow sees as necessary to protect itself from its neighbors’ relations with the West, has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions.

Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Doina Chiacu and Stephen Coates; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Simon Cameron-Moore

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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