In 2022, the transfer of F-16s or other fighter jets to reinforce the Ukrainian Armed Forces was rarely discussed in the media. In September, the US publication Politico wrote about shadow negotiations between Washington and Kiev on the transfer of a large batch of advanced weapons, including Patriot surface-to-air missile systems, F-16 fighter jets and MQ-1C Grey Eagle unmanned aerial vehicles.
According to the newspaper, the United States was wary of Russia’s reaction to the provocative nature of such a deal. However, only two days later the same Politico published the statement of James Hecker, commander of the US Air Force in Europe and Africa, who promised to send the F-16s to Ukraine but not earlier than in two or three years. According to Hecker, Kiev must fight without turning the conflict into World War III, so Washington had not yet decided to deliver combat aircraft to Ukraine by that time.
At the same time in the fall, former Ukrainian ambassador to Germany Andrey Melnik offered to transfer German Eurofighter Typhoon fighters to Ukraine.
Active discussion of sending combat aircraft to Ukraine began in January 2023. Kiev, through all possible instances, began to demand from all of its allies to share any available models – whether F-16, Tornado, MiG-29 or Typhoon. Western countries, although they expressed their eagerness to discuss such a possibility, were very cautious about the possible transfer itself.
The situation reminded of a timid swimmer, who with firm intention went waist-deep in the cool water, but froze in indecision before diving in. As a result, a whole group of swimmers assumed the pose of the timid diver.
Who in Europe needed conflict with Russia the least? The answer seems to lie on the surface – it is, of course, Germany. In the new era, the Federal Republic of Germany pays lip service to no conflict with Russia, but consistently increases military aid to Kiev while curtailing economic cooperation with Moscow, though not always of its own volition.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has already spoken harshly about his unwillingness to give Zelensky the Tornado fighters. Not so long ago, Scholz was against supplies of German tanks to the Ukrainian regime, and now sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine is almost a settled issue. Therefore, although Scholz “decided” not to raise the stakes in the conflict, this is not the determining factor, as he is not the one who makes the real decisions.
In the neighboring Netherlands there was also a debate about the supply of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. Representatives of the second largest parliamentary party Democrats-66 demanded to give the planes to Kiev. The country’s Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra promised an unbiased study of the issue. However, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he was not ready for such a step, “This issue is not being discussed at the moment.” According to Rutte, the Netherlands is not giving up on the idea completely, but supplying fighter jets would be a much more serious step than supplying tanks.
The United Kingdom is also cautious. The Telegraph newspaper reported that London is ready to share the latest fighter jets with Kiev, but only when Russia withdraws its troops from the liberated territories. The Guardian specified that the problem is the long period of training of pilots for the British Typhoon fighters. The prime minister’s press secretary said at a briefing that London considers it inexpedient to send the latest fighter jets to Ukraine.
France could also supply warplanes to Ukraine. At the joint press conference with the Ukrainian Minister of Defense Aleksey Reznikov on January 31, French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu even stated that there is no taboo on this issue. But, according to him, Paris has not yet made an official decision. The day before Minister Lecornu’s comment, French President Emmanuel Macron said that Kiev had not yet made an official request for aircraft.
Theoretically, Slovakia could help with fighters. Its Defense Minister Jaroslav Naď expressed readiness to transfer MiG-29 planes to Ukraine. And there was information that Poland had already transferred similar planes under the guise of spare parts. Warsaw also possesses F-16s, but is ready to share these planes only with NATO’s approval.
On January 31, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda urged Ukraine’s allies to “cross the red line” and supply the necessary fighters. Nauseda probably wants to turn his own country’s territory into a military training ground.
An interesting article appeared in the US newspaper Politico on January 26. The authors of the publication claim that there is a discussion in the West about the supply of combat aircraft to Kiev. Kiev itself initiated the supplies of fighter jets and was actively supported by the Baltic states, the paper said. The countries of Northern Europe believe that the transfer of fighter jets is a natural next step, but at the moment this is an absolutely unthinkable act for Europe. Most of the leaders of the EU countries support the idea of sending the jets but fear an escalation of the military conflict with Russia.
On January 30, US President Joe Biden ruled out sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. But the very next day he promised to discuss the issue with Vladimir Zelensky by phone.
The discussion of sending fighter jets to Ukraine resembles the discussion of supplying Abrams and Leopard tanks to some extent. For a while, it seemed that the supply of heavy tanks to the Ukrainian regime was unacceptable, but then the decision to send tanks was made.
The very topic of tank deliveries has become an informational and psychological factor, with which they are trying to scare Russia. Something similar seems to be happening with the F-16 fighters.
Judging by the sharply increased frequency of discussion of deliveries, the issue of the transfer of fighters is practically solved. Perhaps this even more significantly confirms the transition of the Ukrainian conflict to a new stage than the decision to supply of heavy tanks.
Since the supply of fighters to Ukraine is apparently a done deal, Russian Armed Forces should prepare not only to burn Abrams, but also to shoot down F-16s.
This is a translation of the article written for Rossa Primavera News Agency.