“Russia really wants some kind of big payback”played the Ukrainian president Volodimir Zelensky. “I think it already started.” He was referring to the extraordinary winter offensive that Russian troops are rehearsing on the Donbas front. After five months of setbacks, the Kremlin needs some kind of anabolic in its war corps to stay in the fight. And for that, in the last few days, he concentrated his offensive on the small city of Bakhmut, beyond the fact that it lacks a significant strategic importance. It is there that the new commander of the invasion, General Valery Vasilyevich Gerasimov. And where are the mercenary convicts of the wagner groupwhich organizes Yevgeny Prigozhinclose friend of Vladimir Putin.
If Russian forces manage to break the Ukrainian encirclement of this industrial zone, it will hardly give their supply lines more leeway. But for the kyiv government it would be a severe blow to its imprint of “reconqueror” in the occupied territories at a time when it had scored a victory over its NATO allies by getting them to deliver crucial fast tanks of the type leopard Y Abrams. That’s why Zelensky is pushing this week in Washington and European capitals to take a long step forward: get American F-16 fighter-bombers or their European equivalents with the aim of “finish the war in six months”.
The dust from the confrontation over the dispatch of tanks and tanks is barely clearing. Germany pressured the United States until the last minute to enter into the deal and cede its M1 Abrams so that Berlin could deliver its fastest Leopard 2 without Moscow seeing it as a particular aggression. The German decision opened the door for other allies to do the same and in the next few days they will be arriving in the Ukrainian steppe between 120 and 140 tanksan amount sufficient to stop the Russian offensive.
But the Ukrainian government is ready to put an end to Putin’s expansionist airs and reconquer the territories of the Crimean peninsula and the secessionist enclaves of Donbas invaded as early as 2014. To do this, it needs fighter-bombers to wipe out Russian defense lines east of the Dnipro River. kyiv has been asking for fighter jets since the very moment of the February 24 invasion. Following the change of heart on tanks last week, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikovsaid yesterday that “It would be a real game changer… We could put an end to all of this.”
It is not yet clear which planes and how many kyiv wants. The Vice Chancellor, Andriy Melnykrecently called for “a powerful coalition of fighter jets, made up of American-made F-16 and F-35, European Eurofighter, Italian Panavia Tornado, French Dassault Rafale and Swedish Saab Gripen.
“Ukraine lost its little air power as soon as the invasion began. What he has left are old planes from the Soviet era. And to win this war it is essential to have fighter-bombers”, he explained to the Deutsche Welle, Bruno Letteresearcher at the study center German Marshall Fund. When President Joe Biden was asked at the White House if he would be willing to send the F-16s, he responded with a blunt and decisive “no.” But as explained by the minister Oleksii Reznikov while negotiating in Paris: “All kinds of help went through ‘no’ at the beginning. This means ‘no’ today, from now on you don’t know”.
Reznikov knows that deep down there is another fight that can benefit them. NATO’s European allies want to replace their F-16s with the more modern F-35s. And it could be in their interest to reach an agreement with Washington to quickly deliver the fighter-bombers they have in their arsenals with the promise that the latest generation will arrive in a few months. Until now, they have barely delivered the old MIGs that remained as remnants of the Soviet era and the occasional copy of already outdated aircraft.
In any case, nobody wants to appear to pressure Washington. The Pentagon has control over the re-export of the jets, and no nation is willing to upset the United States in any way under these circumstances. One of the most favorable countries to help Ukraine get F-16, PolandClarified that would only act in concert with NATO allies. Great Britain and Germany have also ruled out sending fighters in recent days. France appears as the most open in this regard. President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that its supply it was not taboo as long as it could not be considered an escalation and were not used to attack “Russian soil”. and the site Political reported this week that some US military supported the move and were trying to convince Defense Department officials. And they cite the fact that the US also previously said it would not send state-of-the-art main battle tanks and tanks, then changed its mind.
The German Chancellor, Olaf Schölz, who opposed sending the Leopard tanks for months until he had to give in to international pressure, now assures that Berlin will not send combat planes and points out the opportunism of its neighbors. On Sunday, Scholz said that what was needed now was a serious debate, not “a bidding competition…in which perhaps domestic political motives play a bigger role than support for Ukraine.”
The allies’ argument for avoiding the delivery of more powerful weapons, such as the latest generation fighter-bombers, is that these would allow Russia to be attacked within its own territory and that could generate an escalation in the war. But below are the national powers over the development of weapons and the transfers that the United States could make of its most developed arsenal. Analyst Bruno Lete believes the chances are high that Western countries will send planes, including Germany. “It wouldn’t be the first time red lines have been crossed,” he said, pointing to the example of the Leopard 2 tanks and before that the HIMARS rocket launchers.
Anyway, there is a logistics problem. The Ukrainian government itself said last week that its pilots would take about six months to train for combat in Western fighters like F-16s. He also said that she had barely 50 fighter pilots ready to start training. Training for the F-22 Raptor or the F-35 Lightning II would be much easier, but above all for what military experts consider the plane that could make the difference in Ukraine: the Swedish-made Saab Gripen. “It’s not just that the Gripen has proven itself distinctly superior to its Western counterparts time and time again during Red Flag, the air combat exercises held several times a year at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Or that the Swedish defense company has been exclusively focused on developing aircraft specifically designed to outperform its Russian rivals for decades. on paper, the Gripen far outperforms today’s best Russian MiGs and Sukhoi, including the Su-57 Felon stealth fighter”, explained the British think tank RUSI (Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies) in one of its reports.
As always, the decision is political and must be agreed within NATO. “Since the beginning of the war, we have really seen two sides in Europe,” explains military analyst Bruno Lete. “There is a camp of countries that really wants Ukraine to win the war, and winning the war means defeating Russia. And then there is another camp of countries that want peace and would be quite happy with some kind of agreement. Right now, the side that wants to win the war, that really wants to push Russia back, is the one that is gaining more influence”.
We are likely to know the final outcome of this political and power struggle before March, when NATO will have to decide whether to hand over the planes for the spring offensive and end the war by the end of the European summer.
Russia sentenced a well-known journalist to eight years in prison for reporting on the war in Ukraine