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How Ukraine Keeps Getting The West To Flip On Arms Supplies

The open debate on weapon deliveries to Ukraine is highly unusual, but Kyiv has figured out how to use the public moral suasion — and patience — to repeatedly shift the question in its favor. But will it work now for fighter jets?

Photo of a sunset over the USS Nimitz with a man guiding fighter jets ready for takeoff

U.S fighter jets ready for takeoff on the USS Nimitz

Pierre Haski


PARIS — In what other war have arms deliveries been negotiated so openly in the public sphere?

On Monday, a journalist asked Joe Biden if he plans on supplying F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. He answered “No”. A few hours later, the same question was asked to Emmanuel Macron, about French fighter jets. Macron did not rule it out.

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Visiting Paris on Tuesday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksïï Reznikov recalled that a year ago, the United States had refused him ground-air Stinger missiles deliveries. Eleven months later, Washington is delivering heavy tanks, in addition to everything else. The 'no' of yesterday is the green light of tomorrow: this is the lesson that the very pragmatic minister seemed to learn.

If he won’t yet leave with Mirage 2000s, the Ukrainian minister did not waste his time in Paris. He obtained from France 12 additional Caesar guns, the long-range artillery pieces that have proven useful in Ukraine, as well as a Thales radar system, and the sending of 160 French trainers to Poland.

Speaking of which, we learned that the manufacturer of the Caesar, the Nexter group, had increased its production capacity to meet demand.

Transparency as soft power

Why such transparency? We are obviously in new terrain. No one had foreseen this war in Europe, and even fewer predicted that NATO armies were going to have to supply the Ukrainian army to such an extent.

The public debate on weapons has been going on since Day One, about every new category of weaponry supplied to Ukraine, with this constant question of whether a "red line" will be crossed. Open discussion is both a way for Ukraine and its friends to put pressure on the most hesitant governments.

How will the debate on planes end?

It also runs the risk of making the public associate the war with expense and cause concern about the risks of escalation. But discussing it takes out any potential drama, even if it has the disadvantage of keeping Moscow informed of upcoming Ukrainian capabilities.

Photo of a \u200bU.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon flying over an undisclosed location

U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon flying over an undisclosed location

U.S. Air Force/ZUMA

How will the debate end?

How will the debate on planes end? At each stage, two questions arise. Does the delivery of new equipment change the nature of our commitment? In other words, are we risking “co-belligerence”? And the second question is Ukrainians' ability to use the weaponry.

If France ends up supplying Mirage 2000s, it will be with very clear rules of engagement.

Fighter jets create a different problem from tanks: they could be used to attack Russian territory, and therefore constitute an act that justifies war for Moscow. Yesterday, during a press conference, the Ukrainian minister and his French counterpart, Sébastien Lecornu, insisted on the defensive dimension of aviation. It is likely that if France ends up supplying Mirage 2000s to Ukraine, it will be with very clear rules of engagement.

If the United States will not deliver F-16s, it remains to be seen whether it will prohibit other countries from doing so, such as the Netherlands or Poland.

Ukraine understands that today's refusals can lay the groundwork for the answer it knows how to wait until tomorrow to hear.

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U.S. Navy handout/ZUMA
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