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France open to sending fighter jets to Ukraine

France has signaled its readiness to send fighter jets to Ukraine as Western countries consider the next steps in military assistance to help Kyiv resist Russian attacks.

“By definition, nothing is out of the question,” President Emmanuel Macron told a press conference in The Hague on Monday, adding that he had not received a request for planes from Ukraine.

Ever since the U.S. and Germany announced last week their decision to send main battle tanks to Kyiv – something France has yet to do – Ukraine’s supporters have turned their attention to the possibility of supplying U.S. F-16s or other Western fighters. Ukrainian officials said the more modern aircraft would help bolster air defenses, repel Russian attacks and prepare for a new offensive in the spring.

U.S. President Joe Biden ruled out sending F-16s to Ukraine on Monday night, apparently dashing Kyiv’s hopes that its biggest backer would lead the move to use the jets. Germany has taken a similar stance, but some more hawkish European countries such as Poland are in favor of sending combat aircraft under certain conditions.

Paris has told other European capitals that it is considering sending additional weapons systems, including jet mounts, according to two officials briefed on the discussions, but a decision is unlikely to be made in the near future.

Emmanuel Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron: “We are doing . . . decisions based on the demands of Ukraine, not on the rumors that go around” © Valeria Mongelli/Bloomberg

Providing air and missile defense systems remains a priority, they said, as well as a new push to provide tanks and train Ukrainian crews to use them.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov will arrive in Paris on Tuesday for meetings with his French counterpart and Macron, where the issue of military assistance will be discussed.

On Monday evening, Macron reiterated the criteria France uses when considering requests for military equipment from Ukraine: Will it be useful and practical for the Ukrainian army to use? Does this create an escalation risk? Will the supply of military equipment weaken French military capabilities?

“We make these decisions based on the requests of Ukraine, and not the rumors that go around. . . every time we receive a request, we consider it,” he added at a press conference after meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

Based on such criteria, France has decided not to send its Leclerc main battle tanks to Kyiv for the time being, although Macron did not rule it out and agreed to send lighter armored personnel carriers, known as AMX-10s. Ukraine sought to acquire German-made Leopard 2 tanks.

Kyiv is also in talks with the governments of France and Italy to acquire an advanced SAMP/T medium-range air defense system similar to the American Patriot battery, which can shoot down ballistic missiles.

Defense analysts expect France to send an older model of its Mirage aircraft to Ukraine if Macron decides to supply combat aircraft. At the beginning of last year, the French company Dassault Aviation had 106 Mirage 2000 aircraft in service, which by 2030 will be replaced by fifth-generation Rafale aircraft.

In June, France decommissioned 14 Mirage 2000-C fighters, so transferring them to Ukraine will not worsen France’s military potential, and in the next few years it will decommission another 26 Mirage 2000-5 interceptors.

Given that France manufactures its own aircraft, no third party permission is required to export them. Several European militaries use F-16s, but US permission will be required to send them to Ukraine. That makes French planes a more obvious candidate, one European official said.

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