Ukraine pushes US lawmakers for F-16s; France to send ‘light tanks’ to Kyiv by ‘end of next week’

A report by Reuters citing United States lawmakers said that Ukrainian officials have urged them on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference (MSC), late Saturday to press President Joe Biden’s administration for sending F-16 fighter jets to Kyiv. This comes weeks after Ukraine’s allies in the West, after months of discussion, approved sending tanks to Kyiv amid its conflict with Russia. Meanwhile, France, on Sunday (February 19) said that it will begin delivering the armoured vehicles promised to Ukraine by next weekend. 

US lawmakers back Kyiv on the sidelines of Munich Security Conference

In what members called the largest number of US lawmakers sent to attend the security conference since it began in 1953, Washington has demonstrated clear bipartisan support for Ukraine. Notably, there are four delegations from the House of Representatives and the Senate combined at this year’s MSC from Washington which includes both Democrats and Republicans. 

Speaking to Reuters, Senator Mark Kelly said, “They (Ukrainian officials) told us that they want (F-16s) to suppress enemy air defenses so they could get their drones”. Additionally, representatives from Kyiv also said that these aircraft would boost their ability to hit Russian missile units. This comes a month after the US president said “no” to sending fighter jets to Ukraine. 

In addition to the aforementioned senator, three other lawmakers during the interview also spoke about how Ukrainian officials told them that they believed that there was growing support in Congress for sending F-16s to Kyiv. Since the beginning of what Moscow has called its “special military operation” in Ukraine almost a year ago, Washington has sent AGM-88 air-to-surface rockets which Kyiv’s air force fires from their Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets. 

However, during the lobbying which took place over the weekend, Ukrainian officials who have not been identified as per Kelly said, “They contended that they need that airplane for the SEAD (suppression of enemy air defences) mission”. He added that Kyiv probably thinks they can do a better job at taking out the Russian S-400s. They will take at least one year of training to master all of the F-16’s capabilities but in the meantime, Ukrainian pilots could be taught a “limited number of things…in a few months,” said the US senator, as per Reuters. 

While support for Ukraine by its western allies was reaffirmed during the MSC, they have been reluctant to use their air power in a significant way since the conflict began. This comes after there has been growing support from several countries about providing Kyiv with NATO-standard jet fighters with the United Kingdom reportedly saying they would provide training. Ukraine has recently sought advanced fighter jets after its allies in the West agreed to send over 300 tanks amid its conflict with Russia, said Kyiv’s ambassador to France, last month. 

France to send “light tanks” to Ukraine by next week

Earlier today, France said that it would begin delivering its AMX-10 armoured vehicles which are also described as “light tanks” and are said to be used for armed reconnaissance and conducted attacks on enemy tanks. As per the French defence ministry, the vehicles whose combat weight is around 20 tonnes are highly mobile, “powerfully armed” and offer protection against light infantry fire. 

In an interview with the French newspaper Le Parisien, the country’s Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu said that the first of these vehicles will be sent to Kyiv “by the end of next week”. He also declined to comment on the exact number of AMX-10s that are going to be sent in the first batch as he did not want to give Russia any “strategic information”, reported AFP. 

This comes after President Emmanuel Macron promised to send their “light tanks” in early January after months of reluctance by France and its allies over fears that increased weapons deliveries could further escalate the conflict. Addressing Kyiv’s request for fighter jets, the defence minister said that the question is “not taboo” but such military aid poses complex “logistical and practical questions”.

Meanwhile, Lecornu said that the training of Ukrainian troops on the AMX-10 was “nearly complete” and that military personnel’s overall training is “intensifying” in both France and fellow NATO member Poland. He added, starting next month, 600 Ukrainian troops would undergo training every month. 

(With inputs from agencies)




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