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A renewed bipartisan push is surfacing among Congressmen to pressure the Biden administration to approve sending F-16 jets to Ukraine, as Russia has almost completely encircled the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.
On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of 8 senators sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin with renewed calls to give U.S.-made fighter jets to Ukraine.
According to the letter, the senators argued that F-16s are desperately needed at this “critical juncture” and claimed that the jets would give the Ukrainians the advantage they need to defeat the Russians. The senators stated that providing the jets to Kyiv would be a “game changer on the battlefield” and added, “After speaking with U.S., Ukrainian, and foreign leaders working to support Ukraine at the Munich Security Conference last month, we believe the U.S. needs to take a hard look at providing F-16 aircraft to Ukraine.”
Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ) has headed the bipartisan effort. The lawmakers are also pressuring the Pentagon for more information regarding what the timetable would need to be and what resources it would take to train Ukrainian pilots to fly the F-16s if the administration agrees to send the jets.
Joining Senator Kelly in the renewed effort are Democratic senators Tammy Duckworth (IL), Tim Kaine (VA), Martin Heinrich (NM), and Jacky Rosen (NV). Also backing the letter were Republican senators Lisa Murkowski (AK), Tommy Tuberville (AL), and Ted Budd (NC).
The Biden administration and defense officials, however, are still insistent that anti-air defense systems, artillery, and ammunition rank higher on the list of priorities for Ukraine and even testified to Congress recently regarding the same.
In addition to the 8 senators who drafted the letter, other Congressmen are also pushing for more, including Republicans Tom Cotton and Lindsay Graham.
While Cotton has accused the White House of taking “half measures” regarding the war in Ukraine and has a list of escalatory measures he would like to see taken, Graham has begun arguing that the U.S. should fire on Russian aircraft.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, confirmed during a Wednesday press conference that he recently spoke with Russian Defense Secretary, Sergei Shoigu, for the first time since October, which is a good indication that the two countries are not yet ready to enter a direct conflict, as some senators appear to be pushing for.
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During a press conference Monday to discuss an upcoming trip to Poland, President Biden announced that the U.S. will not be sending F-16 jets to Ukraine, despite growing pressure from some European countries and reportedly from some Pentagon officials. When asked by reporters if he would provide Ukraine with F-16 jets, he answered with a simple “no.”
However, Biden also said that he would not send tanks to Ukraine in March 2022, and yet last week he approved a shipment of not only M1 Abrams tanks, but also Bradley Fighting Vehicles. It is likely that this “no” is tentative.
When asked about sending tanks to Ukraine last March, Biden said, “The idea that we’re going to send in offensive equipment and have planes and tanks and trains going in with American pilots and American crews – just understand, don’t kid yourself, no matter what y’all say, that’s called World War III.”
While Biden claims the U.S. will not send jets to Kyiv, the Ukrainian president’s office is saying that it is already working on expedited negotiations with Washington regarding possibly being supplied with long-range missiles and jets by the U.S. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said that sending jets is not an option, although he was instrumental last week in the decision of both Washington and Berlin to send tanks to Ukraine.
On Saturday, a Zelensky advisor, Mykhailo Podolyak told The Associated Press that “fast-track” discussions are taking place that focus on Ukraine obtaining both jets and long-range missiles “to drastically curtail the key tool of the Russian army” by giving Ukraine the ability to strike weapons warehouses that are far from the frontlines.
Meanwhile, reports emerged from U.S. media over the weekend that there is a growing movement within the Pentagon to pressure the Biden administration into approving sending jets to Kyiv.
According to Politico, “A contingent of military officials is quietly pushing the Pentagon to approve sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine to help the country defend itself from Russian missile drone attacks, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.”
“As Ukraine prepares to launch a new offensive to retake territory in the spring, the campaign inside the Defense Department for fighter jets is gaining momentum, according to a DoD official and two other people involved in the discussions,” the report continued. It went on to quote a defense official who said, “I don’t think we are opposed” with regard to sending F-16s to Ukraine. The senior DoD official spoke on a condition of anonymity and emphasized that there has not been a final decision made.
The White House has only commented thus far to say that the U.S. would be discussing fighter jets “very carefully” with Ukraine and its allies. Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer said on Thursday, “We have not ruled in or out any specific systems.”
While Germany could stand in the way, it should be noted that the Germans gave in fairly quickly to pressure from its NATO allies regarding the tank issues last week. In a recent interview, Scholz said, “I can only advise against entering into a constant competition to outbid each other when it comes to weapons systems.”
“The question of combat aircraft does not arise at all,” Scholz added.
While both the U.S. and Germany currently do not support sending F-16s to Kyiv, talks are allegedly in the works with Ukraine, and as we have seen, both Biden and Scholz can change always change their minds.