© Reuters. Members of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade (Azov Unit) of the Armed Forces of Ukraine prepare to fire 152 mm 2A65 Msta-B howitzers, amid the Russian offensive against Ukraine, near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, February 6, 2023. REUTERS/ Marko Djurica
KIEV (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday he did not rule out sending fighter jets to Ukraine at some point, but that Kiev needed more immediate military firepower as Ukrainian officials said a new Russian offensive was underway.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has long appealed to Ukraine’s allies to send fighter jets, and on Thursday said several European leaders were ready to deliver the planes.
“Europe will be with us until we win. I have heard this from a number of European leaders… about the readiness to give us the necessary weapons and support, including aircraft,” Zelenskiy said at a press conference.
Such a move would be one of the biggest shifts in Western support so far, and Moscow has warned that it would escalate and prolong the conflict.
“I’m not ruling out anything at all,” Macron said when asked about the possibility of sending the plane at the end of the summit of EU leaders, which also includes Zelensky.
But Macron said the immediate priority was to help Ukraine in the coming weeks and months, and the fighter jets could not be delivered in that time frame and would take time to train Ukrainian pilots to fly them.
Macron said the priority should be on items such as artillery, which has proven effective and in which Ukrainian forces are already trained. He said it may be necessary to intensify the delivery of such items and that Ukraine’s allies will examine the possibility in the coming days.
As the February 24th anniversary of Russia’s invasion approaches, Kiev has predicted an aggressive attack from Moscow aimed at cutting into the territorial gains it can impose after a year, after months of little progress.
Asked on Ukrainian television whether he agreed that the Russian offensive had already begun, Pavlo Krylenko, the governor of the eastern Donetsk region, said Thursday: “Yes, definitely.”
Around eastern cities such as Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Vuhledar that witnessed some of the bloodiest battles of the war, “enemy forces and assets are escalating there with daily intensity. They are trying to… capture those areas and key cities… achieve new successes.” , He said.
The wider eastern Donbass region, comprising Donetsk and Luhansk, has been one of Russia’s main targets, and the Kremlin declared it among four annexed territories in the autumn following a referendum the West dismissed as fraudulent.
“Over the past week for 10 days, the frequency of shelling has increased. The daily number of attacks has increased,” Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai told Ukraine’s Radio NV on Thursday. “In a real sense, this is part of an all-out offensive that the Russians are planning.”
He said there had been another major Russian offensive around Kreminna, along the northern part of the eastern front, but that Moscow forces were “not having any significant success”.
Reuters could not independently verify reports from the battlefield.
Kyiv EXPECTS WEAPONS, AIRCRAFT
Western countries that have supplied Ukraine with weapons have so far refused to send fighter jets or long-range weapons that can strike deep inside Russia for fear of being drawn further into the conflict.
Zelenskiy began his European tour on Wednesday with a meeting in London with Britain’s Rishi Sunak and a dinner in Paris with France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Olaf Scholz.
Sunak promised to train Ukrainian pilots to fly advanced NATO fighter jets. He did not offer to deliver the plane, but said nothing had been agreed.
Zelensky said that part of what Macron and Scholz promised him in Paris is still a secret.
“There are certain agreements that are not public, but they are positive. I do not want to prepare the Russian Federation, which constantly threatens us with new aggressions,” he said.
MOSCOW WARNS THE WEST ABOUT ESCALATION
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Ukrainians would be the ones who would suffer if Britain or other Western countries supplied fighter jets to Kiev, and that the line between indirect and direct involvement of the West in the war is disappearing.
Such actions “lead to an escalation of tensions, prolong the conflict and make the conflict more and more painful for Ukraine,” Peskov said.
Russian forces have recently advanced for the first time in half a year, bolstered by tens of thousands of freshly mobilized recruits, in relentless winter battles described by both sides as some of the bloodiest of the war.
Russian forces launched a series of attacks overnight that knocked out power in parts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, local officials said on Friday. There was no mention of victims.
“The occupiers hit critical infrastructure. There were about 10 explosions,” Kharkiv Governor Oleh Synehubov said on Telegram. “There are power outages in some regions. Emergency services are on the scene.”
Russia has launched what it calls a “special military operation” to combat what it describes as a security threat from Ukraine’s ties to the West. Ukraine and the West say the Russian invasion is an unprovoked land grab.