Los Angeles Times

Ukraine pushes for fighter jets

Western allies won’t say yes as they focus on ammunition stocks.


BRUSSELS — Ukraine on Tuesday renewed its appeal to Western countries for fighter jets to help frustrate Moscow’s almost yearlong invasion, but won no assurances at a high-level defense meeting in Brussels that it would receive any combat aircraft.

“I don’t have any announceme­nts on aircraft to make today,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III told reporters after leading a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at NATO headquarte­rs, where 54 countries were represente­d.

Even so, Ukraine’s allies pledged more weapons, ammunition and tanks as senior defense officials at the meeting said the war with Russia is approachin­g a critical stage.

“This isn’t about one single capability,” Austin said at a news conference, referring to the warplanes. “It’s about delivering all the capabiliti­es that we promised. It’s about integratin­g these systems together.”

The first challenge, he said, is to make sure all the military aid is used effectivel­y.

“It’s a monumental task to bring all those systems together and get the troops trained on those platforms,” he said.

As Moscow musters its forces for a potential push in eastern Ukraine, Austin said, Kyiv could launch its own offensive in the spring.

With the war set to enter its second year at the end of next week, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov was in Brussels to press his country’s case for fighter jets, holding up an image of a warplane when asked what military aid his country is seeking.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pushed hard for combat planes last week when he visited London, Paris and Brussels on just his second foreign trip since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, 2022. His plea came days after Western allies pledged to provide Kyiv with tanks.

Moscow’s forces have been pressing in Ukraine’s east while bolstering their defensive lines in the south. The war has been largely static during the winter months, though both sides are expected to launch offensives when the weather improves.

Ukraine’s dogged resistance and Western weapons and intelligen­ce have helped thwart the Kremlin’s ambitions of securing the entire eastern region of Donbas. But the risk remains that in some areas Kyiv’s forces could be overwhelme­d by the sheer number of Russian troops.

Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Russian forces are “struggling mightily” and making only slow progress in the Donbas. “However, they do have numbers” to keep fighting, Milley said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was hoping Western support for Kyiv would fizzle out, Austin said.

“Today’s meeting comes at a critical time,” Austin said. “The Kremlin is still betting that it can wait us out.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenber­g, asked when he expects Russia’s socalled spring offensive to begin, said, “The reality is that we have seen the start already.

“For me, this just highlights the importance of timing. It’s urgent to provide Ukraine with more weapons,” he told reporters in Brussels.

Another issue occupying the minds of allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organizati­on is how to keep up a steady supply of ammunition to Ukraine without depleting their own stockpiles.

According to some estimates, Ukraine is firing 6,000 to 7,000 artillery shells each day, around a third of the daily amount that Russia is using.

Stoltenber­g warned Monday that Ukraine is using up ammunition much faster than its allies can supply it.

However, the Russians appear short on resources for any major offensive at the moment, the U.K. Ministry of Defense said.

“Overall, the current operationa­l picture suggests that Russian forces ... have not massed sufficient offensive combat power,” it tweeted.

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