F-16 fighter jets in Ukraine pose a ‘colossal risk’ to Russia
Joe Biden said the delivery of F-16 jets to Ukraine represents a “colossal risk” to Russia as he directed the Kremlin’s own words back at Vladimir Putin.
On Sunday, leaders of the G7 richest democracies said they would not back down from supporting Ukraine, after the US approved the possible transfer of Western jets.
When Mr Biden was asked at the summit in Hiroshima whether he agreed with Russia’s statement that supplying F-16s is a “colossal risk”, he replied: “It is, for them.”
Earlier in the day, the US president said Volodymyr Zelensky, his Ukrainian counterpart, has given Washington a “flat assurance” that F-16 fighters will not attack Russian soil.
The US offer of F-16s constitutes a significant upgrade from Kyiv’s Cold War-era fleet for MiGs and Sukhois but some warned their use could cast into question the defensive nature of weapons the West is now providing to the war-torn nation.
“I have a flat assurance from Zelensky that they will not use it to go on and move onto Russian geographic territory, but wherever Russian troops are within Ukraine and the area, they would be able to do that,” Mr Biden, the US president, told reporters at the G7 summit in Hiroshima.
F-16s, which are made by Lockheed Martin in the US, have long been at the top of Mr Zelensky’s wish list from the West. A small number of European countries have them, including the Netherlands which is willing to export some to Ukraine, while the UK has said it could help with training.
However, the US has to approve any such third-party transfer to Ukraine because of the jets’ sensitive technology. Mr Biden had been initially unwilling to allow European countries to re-export them to Ukraine.
The assurances came as Mr Zelensky secured more arms, munitions and “unwavering” diplomatic support from allies after two days of talks in the Japanese city.
The White House unveiled a $375 million (£301m) package of US aid that includes ammunition for Himar rocket launchers, artillery shells, anti-tank guided missiles and thermal imaging systems.
“We will not waver, Putin will not break our resolve as he thought he could,” said Mr Biden. “We have Ukraine’s back and we’re not going anywhere.”
The West faces “colossal risks” if it delivers F-16s to Ukraine, Russia’s foreign ministry said in regards to the apparent breakthrough.
Mr Zelensky’s unannounced trip to Japan has been a major diplomatic coup, putting his country and Russia’s invasion firmly at the top of the agenda.
In another breakthrough, Mr Zelensky met on the sidelines of the summit with Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, their first face-to-face talks since the war. He briefed him on Ukraine’s peace plan, which calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the country before any negotiations.
India, the world’s largest democracy and a major buyer of Russian arms and oil, has avoided outright condemnation of Russia’s invasion.
Mr Modi told Mr Zelensky: “I understand your pain and the pain of Ukrainian citizens very well. I can assure you that to resolve this India and, me personally, will do whatever we can do.”
West ‘encouraging the war’
However, Brazil’s president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has accused the West of “encouraging the war”, did not meet his Ukrainian counterpart.
While Mr Lula condemned the “violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity” and called for dialogue in group discussions, he also took aim at members of the UN Security Council with one official present describing the exchange as “frank”.
“Permanent members continue the long tradition of waging unauthorised wars, whether in pursuit of territorial expansion or in pursuit of regime change,” an apparent reference to the US-led Iraq War.
Mr Zelensky said scheduling conflicts had prevented the pair from meeting. Asked if he was disappointed to miss talks with Mr Lula, he replied: “I think he is disappointed.”
Overall, Mr Zelensky secured firm backing for key elements of his 10-point peace plan, centred on the need for a Russian withdrawal.
Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, said the message from Ukraine and its allies was clear: “Russia must withdraw troops”. Any peace plan, he said, “can’t simply be linked to a freeze of the conflict”.
However, Russia accused G7 leaders of turning the summit into a “propaganda show” for Ukraine.
“The leaders of the G7 brought to their meeting the ringleader of the Kyiv regime they control and turned the Hiroshima event into a propaganda show,” said the Russian foreign ministry.
The West’s decline in global influence “is forcing the members of this body to put all their efforts into whipping up anti-Russian and anti-Chinese hysteria”, it said.
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