France doesn't rule out sending warplanes to Ukraine

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French President Emmanuel Macron, left, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte meet in The Hague, Netherlands, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. Macron visits Rutte in the Netherlands, with Ukraine, migration among issues on the agenda. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

THE HAGUE – President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that France doesn’t exclude sending fighter jets to Ukraine, but laid out multiple conditions before such a significant step might be taken.

France has sent Ukraine air-defense systems, rocket launcher units, cannons and other military equipment and has pledged to send armored surveillance and combat vehicles, but has stopped short of sending battle tanks or heavier weaponry.

Asked at a news conference in The Hague on Monday if France is considering sending warplanes, Macron said “nothing is excluded” as long as certain conditions are met.

Among those conditions: that providing such equipment would not lead to an escalation of tensions or be used “to touch Russian soil,” and that it wouldn’t “weaken the capacities of the French army," Macron said.

He also said Ukraine would have to formally request the planes. He noted that he will meet visiting Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov in Paris on Tuesday.

In Washington, asked by a reporter on Monday if his administration was considering sending Ukraine F16 fighter jets, U.S. President Joe Biden responded “no.” Biden's deputy national security adviser, Jon Finer, said in an MSNBC interview last week that U.S. would discuss fighter jets “very carefully” with Ukraine and allies.

In the first weeks of the war, the Biden administration looked at a proposal under which Poland would supply Ukraine with the MiG-29s and in turn receive American F-16s to make up for their loss. Ukrainian pilots are trained to fly the Soviet-era fighter jets.

The idea was ultimately scuttled after Poland floated the idea of delivering the MiG-29s to a U.S. air base in Germany. Pentagon officials said at the time time that the prospect of warplanes departing from a base used by the U.S. and NATO was not tenable.

Ukrainian officials have been stepping up demands for heavier weapons from Western allies to push back Russia’s forces.

At Macron’s side, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Ukraine hasn’t formally requested Dutch F16 fighter jets so far. He struck a cautious stance after the Dutch foreign minister told lawmakers earlier this month that there were “no taboos” about sending the warplanes.

“There is no talk about delivering F-16s to Ukraine. No requests," Rutte said Monday. There are “no taboos, but it would be a very big next step."

“It is very important we keep supporting Ukraine and that Ukraine articulates to us what they need,” Rutte said.

He welcomed recent German and U.S. announcements about sending tanks to Ukraine.

“As the Netherlands, we will keep looking at what we can do," Rutte said. "We don’t have Leopard 2 tanks, we lease them. We’ve said if it helps we’re prepared to buy them and pass them on. Maybe it’s better to use those leased Leopard 2s somewhere else. … Whatever works.”


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