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Pilots First, Then The Planes? The West Looks Ready To Break Major "Taboo" On Ukraine Arms

French President Emmanuel Macron's announcement that France will train Ukrainian pilots appears to pave the way for the delivery of fighter jets to Kyiv. Similar moves are coming from the UK. It's a delicate process to never declare war on Russia, while maximizing Ukraine's ability to repulse the invaders.

Image of a State of Emergency Service aviator in Ukraine.

A SES aviator in Ukraine.

State Emergency Service of Ukraine
Pierre Haski


PARIS — Another taboo has been broken. France will train Ukrainian fighter pilots, as announced by French President Emmanuel Macron Monday night in his interview on the TF1 television channel. The logical next step is to provide Mirage 2000 aircraft to the Ukrainian air force, but we haven't reached that point yet.

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It is however an important step forward in the commitment to Ukraine, and is in line with the logic of the last few months. It comes in addition to the Caesar guns, light armor, and air defense missile systems that France has already delivered and continues to supply to Ukraine.

Macron denied last night that there was any taboo on supplying aircraft. In fact, at each stage, since the beginning of the Russian invasion, Ukraine's allies have weighed both the needs and capabilities of the Ukrainians, and the possible reaction of the Russians, before taking each new step.

The debate on aircraft began as soon as the decision was made, itself bitterly debated, to deliver tanks. Two months later, the step is being taken, and not only in Paris.

UK and F-16s

This decision has been agreed with the other NATO countries, and was one of the major points discussed during President Volodymyr Zelensky's tour of European capitals in recent days. The United Kingdom will also train pilots, this time on American-made F-16s.

The presentation made last night by Macron says it all: "We are not at war with Russia," the French President said. "We are helping Ukraine to resist the Russian assailant, which means that we are not delivering weapons that could reach Russian soil or attack Russia."

That's for the political spin. The reality is a bit different.

Image of a French Mirage 2000 flying.

A French Mirage 2000.

Ken Murray/ZUMA

A matter of choice

The reality is that some of the weapons that have already been delivered can reach Russian territory. For example, the Caesar guns that fire at a distance of more than 35 kilometers: a French official pointed out to us that, placed near the border, they can clearly reach Russia. He added that the choice not to strike Russian territory with French weapons depended on commitments made in confidence by the Ukrainians, more than on the capacity of the weapons themselves.

The next stages of the war are being played out right now.

The UK has thus announced the delivery to Ukraine of long-range Storm Shadow missiles, firing up to 250 kilometers. The issue is exactly the same.

The next stages of the war are being played out right now. First of all, the counteroffensive about which the Ukrainian leaders are trying to calm expectations, but which will nevertheless be a decisive moment. And in the longer term, the Ukrainian army's ability to influence the balance of power, if negotiations are to be opened.

At the same time, the issue of future security guarantees to Ukraine is being discussed in the run-up to the NATO summit in Vilnius in July. During Zelensky's visit in Paris, France stated that "Ukraine has the right to choose its own security arrangements."

However, Kyiv has already made it known that its choice is joining NATO, which has so far met with strong reservations in Paris.

Yes, a lot of taboos are falling at once.

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Inside The Search For Record-Breaking Sapphires In A Remote Indian Valley

A vast stretch of mountains in India's Padder Valley is believed to house sapphire reserves worth $1.2 billion, which could change the fate of one of the poorest districts of Jammu and Kashmir.

Photo of sapphire miners at work in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar district

Sapphire mining in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar district

Jehangir Ali

GULABGARH — Mohammad Abbas recalls with excitement the old days when he joined the hunt in the mountains of Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar district to search the world’s most precious sapphires.

Kishtwar’s sapphire mines are hidden in the inaccessible mountains towering at an altitude of nearly 16,000 feet, around Sumchan and Bilakoth areas of Padder Valley in Machail – which is one of the most remote regions of Jammu and Kashmir.

“Up there, the weather is harsh and very unpredictable,” Abbas, a farmer, said. “One moment the high altitude sun is peeling off your skin and the next you could get frostbite. Many labourers couldn’t stand those tough conditions and fled.”

Abbas, 56, added with a smile: “But those who stayed earned their reward, too.”

A vast stretch of mountains in Padder Valley nestled along Kishtwar district’s border with Ladakh is believed to house sapphire reserves worth $1.2 billion, according to one estimate. A 19.88-carat Kishtwar sapphire broke records in 2013 when it was sold for nearly $2.4 million.

In India, the price of sapphire with a velvety texture and true-blue peacock colour, which is found only in Kishtwar, can reach $6,000 per carat. The precious stone could change the socio-economic landscape of Kishtwar, which is one of the economically most underdeveloped districts of Jammu and Kashmir.

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