The West isn’t really saying “never” on fighter jets for Ukraine — it just wants to focus first on getting Kyiv weapons for a looming offensive.
That’s the sentiment emerging in the wake of U.S. President Joe Biden’s blunt “no” — echoed to various degrees by leaders in Germany and the U.K. — to the question of whether he would be sending Ukraine the fighter jets it is requesting. While officials have publicly remained relatively unequivocal that no jets are forthcoming, private discussions indicate it may actually just be a matter of time.
At the Pentagon, senior U.S. officials acknowledge Ukraine will need to modernize its aging Air Force with new fighter jets — eventually. But for now, officials are focused on sending the weapons Kyiv needs for the immediate fight.
The same conversations are happening in Europe. Countries like Poland, the Netherlands and France have indicated an openness to the idea, but officials stress there’s considerable work to be done just to get Ukraine the taboo-shattering weapons promised in recent weeks.
“I think it is an issue of longer-term perspective,” said one Eastern European senior diplomat. “We need to deliver what was committed in January as soon as possible. It is really impressive, but time is of the essence.”
The chatter indicates that while the tenor is negative for now, the issue is one likely to linger behind the scenes and eventually reemerge.
It’s a pattern that has occurred over and over for the Western alliance since the war began: Something that was once forbidden — from German weapons in a war zone to Ukraine receiving modern tanks — creeps its way toward reality as the war grinds on, the West’s commitment deepens and equipment requiring significant training no longer seems irrelevant.
“A lot of people still don’t understand that the war is far from over,” Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Andriy Melnyk told POLITICO. “In fact, Putin appears to have even more of an appetite than ever. Without air support you can’t fight a modern war.”