Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said an “aviation taboo” was responsible for Western allies refusing to send fighter jets to help his country in the war against Russia.
President Joe Biden is among world leaders who have refused to provide jets to Ukraine despite a sustained pressure campaign. During his nightly televised address on Monday, Zelensky said Ukraine’s air force had done “an excellent job” but lamented the country’s lack of “modern aviation” capabilities.
Ukraine’s president also suggested that the “taboo” may be behind the fact that rescue workers were killed and injured in a Russian “terrorist” attack using Iranian-made drones.
“The day started with an Iranian drone attack,” Zelensky said. “Three employees of the state emergency service in Khmelnitsky were injured, two were killed…that’s why we need the aviation component of air defense – modern combat aircraft – to protect the entire territory of our country against Russian terror.”
“Air defense is complete only when supported by aviation. Modern aviation,” he continued. “We will be able to fully protect the skies when the taboo of aviation in relations with our partners is lifted.”
Biden said in an ABC interview on Friday that he was “ruling out” sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine “at this time.” The US president said military officials determined there was no reason to provide them.
“No, [Zelensky] doesn’t need F-16s,” Biden said. “There is no reason on which there is justification, according to our military now, for providing F-16s.”
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, defended the president’s position during a CNN interview on Sunday, arguing, “Ukrainian fighters can take back territory that Russia currently occupies” with existing equipment.
“The F-16s are a matter for later,” Sullivan said. “And that is why President Biden has said that, at this time, he is not moving forward with these… The mission at hand is to have a successful counter-offensive where Ukraine is able to resume its own territory.”
Some Republican lawmakers have criticized Biden and his administration for refusing to send the jets, with Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska calling the decision a “genuine mistake” during an interview Sunday on NBC. Meet the press.
Newsweek contacted the White House for comment.
Retired US Air Force Colonel Jeffrey Fischer said Newsweek last week that sending F-16s to Ukraine could provide “air superiority for the Ukrainians” and bring the war to a “quick conclusion”.
Zelensky has also appealed to other NATO countries for fighter jets in recent months. Poland, the UK, France and Germany are among the countries that have joined the US in refusing to supply the jets.