Ukraine’s allies will agree to provide fighter jets to fight Russian forces, the defense minister said, despite recent comments by Western leaders that there would be no warplanes.
Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov also said at a press conference on Sunday that Russia will launch a major offensive in the coming weeks, but Ukraine has the troops and resources to repel such an attack.
The Ukrainian army will halt the operation despite tanks and other weapons systems from the West not arriving in time, he said.
“There will also be planes,” predicted Reznikov. “It’s just a question of exactly what kind… Consider that this mission has already been completed.”
So far, Ukraine has received the support of the Baltic countries and Poland in its quest to acquire Western fighter jets. But several Western leaders have expressed concern that providing the warplanes could provoke the Kremlin and drag their countries deeper into the conflict, which has cost tens of thousands of lives and caused massive destruction.
Kyiv says such jets are key to challenging Russian air supremacy and ensuring success in a Russian offensive that Reznikov predicted could begin around the first anniversary of the war, February 24.
“Not all Western weapons will arrive by then, but we have resources and reserves to help stabilize and sustain the offensive,” Reznikov told reporters.
Since the war began, Western officials have rejected some Ukrainian demands, such as longer-range missiles and tanks, only to later agree to them. The most recent example is warplanes.
‘De facto NATO country’
Ukraine will not use the longer-range weapons promised by the United States to target Russian territory and will only target Russian units on occupied Ukrainian territory, Reznikov said.
The US confirmed on Friday that a new missile that doubles Ukraine’s strike range is included in a $2.2 billion US military aid package to help Kiev fight Russian forces.
“We always officially tell our partners that we will not use weapons supplied by foreign partners to fire on Russian territory. We are only shooting at Russian units on temporarily occupied Ukrainian territory,” he said.
German-made tanks are on their way to Ukraine. Reznikov said his forces would begin training on Leopard 2 tanks in Europe on Monday, ahead of their delivery to Ukraine. So far, Canada, Poland, Germany, Britain and the United States have announced the delivery of tanks to Ukraine.
The Kremlin has said that supplying Western countries with increasingly sophisticated weapons will only prolong the conflict, and has characterized NATO as a direct participant in the war.
Reznikov, commenting on the supply of Western weapons and the state of the Ukrainian military, extended the rhetoric on Sunday, telling reporters: “I absolutely boldly claim that we have become a de facto NATO country. We only have the de jure part left.”
Ukraine has applied for NATO membership, as have Russia’s two other neighbors, Finland and Sweden.
‘Fight to the last’
Fighting is raging in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region as Russia steps up pressure ahead of the first anniversary of its invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
“Things are very difficult in the Donetsk region – fierce battles,” Zelenskyy said in his overnight video address. “But no matter how difficult it is and no matter how much pressure there is, we have to endure… We have no alternative to defend ourselves and win.”
Russia, he said, is exerting increased pressure in order to “make up for its defeats last year. We see it in various sectors of the front and also the pressure in terms of information.”
Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said five civilians were wounded in rocket attacks on the town of Druzhkivka, while the town of Avdiivka and its suburbs were also fired upon.
Heavy fighting took place in Bakhmut. The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said the Ukrainian army was not retreating and fighting was raging in the northern parts of the eastern city.
“Fierce battles are being fought for every street, every house, every staircase,” Prigozhin said in a statement. The Ukrainian armed forces are fighting to the last.
Kharkiv Regional Governor Oleh Syniehubov said four people were injured when a Russian S-300 missile fell near an apartment block in the city of Kharkiv, and another was injured when the missile hit a university building.