By Andrew Gray and Johnny Cotton
BRUSSELS, Feb 15 (Reuters) – Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Wednesday he was “absolutely” confident Western countries will supply fighter jets to Kyiv to help fight Russia’s invasion even though some have been cool on the idea so far.
In an interview with Reuters in Brussels, Reznikov noted that Ukraine’s allies had already ended up providing a range of Western weapons systems after initially saying they would not do so. “Impossible became possible,” he said.
He said fighter jets were needed as part of a broader system of air defences to protect Ukraine from Russian attacks.
“We vitally need aircraft as a platform to defend our sky. We have to dominate in our Ukrainian sky. It will protect our civil population, first of all, and certainly our armed forces.”
In recent weeks, U.S. President Joe Biden Washington said Washington would not supply F-16 jets to Ukraine and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also ruled out sending fighter aircraft.
Other countries, such as Poland, have signalled they are open to the idea but would only act with broad Western support. Britain has said it will provide training for Ukrainian fighter pilots but not yet whether it would supply jets.
Some Western officials have also noted it would likely take many months to provide fighter jets and train Ukrainian pilots to use them. Others have also expressed concerns that supplying Western jets could be a dangerous escalation in the war.
Speaking the day after meeting in Brussels with NATO defence ministers and a coalition of more than 50 countries supporting Kyiv, Reznikov said fighter jets were “on the table” and allies were assessing which model would be best for Ukraine.
“We have to choose the best solution,” he said, citing U.S. F-16 jets and Swedish Gripen aircraft as leading options.
Reznikov said his personal view was that F-16s would be best as they are used by a wide range of countries. “My dream: It should be F-16. But Gripen also is very good,” he said.
Having secured a range of Western weapons including air defence systems, rockets, artillery and tanks, Reznikov said he had joked with Western ministers that fighter jets were the last item on his wish list to Santa Claus.
Asked if he was confident he would get jets in the end, Reznikov replied: “Absolutely, I am confident.”
Reznikov said air defence remained Ukraine’s top priority in terms of military aid, even though Kyiv has already received multiple advanced systems. He said that if Russia began a major offensive, it would bring its own air force more into play.
“If they start a real offensive campaign, certainly they will use aircraft from their side, trying to stop our defence forces. That means it’s a real threat, that’s why need more sophisticated, more modern aircraft – to stop them, to defeat them, to deter them.”