- Biden said ‘no’ when asked about F-16s for Ukraine
- Zelenskiy says Moscow seeks ‘massive revenge’
- The Russian administrator claimed a foothold in Vuhledar
- Kyiv may regain ground when Western weapons arrive – group
KYIV, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Ukraine’s Defense Minister is expected in Paris on Tuesday to meet President Emmanuel Macron amid a debate among Kyiv’s allies over whether to provide fighter jets for its war against Russia, after discovering by US President Joe Biden giving the F-16s.
Ukraine plans to push for Western fourth-generation fighters such as the F-16 after securing supplies of main battle tanks last week, an adviser to Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Friday.
Asked at the White House on Monday if the United States would provide F-16s, Biden told reporters: “No.”
But France and Poland appear ready to entertain 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.
In remarks made on French television before Biden spoke in Washington, Macron stressed that any such move would depend on a number of factors including the need to prevent escalation and assurances that the aircraft would not “strike on Russian soil.” He said Reznikov will also meet his French counterpart Sebastien Lecornu in Paris on Tuesday.
In Poland on Monday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also did not rule out a possible supply of F-16s to neighboring Ukraine, in response to a reporter’s question before Biden spoke.
Morawiecki said in statements posted on his website that any such transfer would take place “in complete coordination” with NATO countries.
Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential office, noted “positive signals” from Poland and said France “does not rule out” such a move in separate posts on his Telegram channel.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was in Japan on Tuesday where he thanked Tokyo for the “planes and cargo capabilities” it is providing to Ukraine. A day earlier in South Korea, he urged Seoul to increase its military support to Ukraine.
Biden’s comments came moments after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia had begun retaliating for Ukraine’s resistance to its offensive in an unrelenting offensive in the east, where it appeared to be making further gains.
Zelenskiy has warned for weeks that Moscow intends to step up its offensive after nearly two months of virtual stalemate along the front line that stretches south and east.
Ukraine won a big boost last week when Germany and the United States announced plans to provide heavy tanks, ending weeks of diplomatic deadlock on the issue.
While there was no sign of a wider new Russian offensive, the administrator of the Russian-controlled parts of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk province, Denis Pushilin, said Russian troops had taken a position in Vuhledar, a mining town of coal whose ruins have become Ukrainian bastions. since the beginning of the war.
Pushilin said that despite “huge losses” Ukrainian forces are consolidating positions at industrial facilities.
‘FIGHT FOR EVERY METRE’
Pushilin said Ukrainian forces were throwing reinforcements into Bakhmut, Maryinka and Vuhledar, towns running north to south just west of Donetsk city. Russian state news agency TASS quoted him as saying that Russian forces are advancing there, but “it’s not clear, that is, here there is a battle for literally every meter.”
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said Ukraine still controls Maryinka and Vuhledar, where Monday’s Russian attack was less intense.
Pushilin’s adviser, Yan Gagin, said fighters from the Russian mercenary force Wagner had taken partial control of a supply road to Bakhmut, a city that has been a focus of Moscow for months.
A day earlier, the Wagner chief said his fighters had captured Blahodatne, a village just north of Bakhmut, although Kyiv said it had denied attacks on Blahodatne.
Reuters could not independently verify the reports on the battlefield. But the reported battle locations indicate clear, albeit gradual, Russian gains.
In the central region of Zaporizhzhia and the southern region of Kherson, Russian forces shelled more than 40 settlements, the General Staff of Ukraine said. Targets included the city of Kherson, where there were casualties.
The Russians also launched four rocket attacks on Ochakiv in southern Mykolaiv, the army said, on the day Zelenskiy met the Danish prime minister in the northeastern city of Mykolaiv.
Zelenskiy has urged the West to speed up the delivery of its promised weapons so Ukraine can go on the offensive, but most of the hundreds of tanks promised by Western countries are months away from being delivered.
British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said the 14 Challenger tanks donated by Britain would be on the front line around April or May, without giving an exact timetable.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Western countries supplying weapons lead “to NATO countries becoming more and more directly involved in the conflict – but this has no potential to change the course of events and will not it will do.”
The US-based Institute for the Study of War think-tank said “the failure of the West to provide the necessary material” last year was the main reason Kyiv’s advance had stalled since November.
Researchers said in a report that Ukraine could still regain territory once the promised weapons arrive.
The Belarusian defense ministry said on Tuesday that Russia and Belarus began a week-long staff training session in preparation for joint exercises in Russia in September.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow has justified as necessary to protect itself from its Western neighbor’s ties, has killed thousands of people and driven millions from their homes.
Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Doina Chiacu and Stephen Coates; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Simon Cameron-Moore
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