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France doesn’t rule out fighter jets for Ukraine, but says more immediate firepower needed

KYIV – French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday he did not rule out sending fighter jets to Ukraine at some point, but that Kyiv was in need of more immediate military firepower, as Ukrainian officials said a fresh Russian offensive was underway.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has long urged Ukraine’s allies to send jet fighters and on Thursday said that several European leaders were ready to supply aircraft.

“Europe will be with us until our victory. I’ve heard it from a number of European leaders…about the readiness to give us the necessary weapons and support, including the aircraft,” Zelenskiy told a news conference in Brussels, where he attended a European Union summit.

Such a move would be one of the biggest shifts yet in Western support and Moscow has warned it would escalate and prolong the conflict.

“I exclude absolutely nothing,” Macron said when asked about the possibility of sending jets at the end of a summit of EU leaders.

But Macron said the current priority was to help Ukraine in the weeks and months ahead, and fighter jets could not be delivered in that timeframe and it would take time to train Ukrainian pilots to fly them.

Macron said the priority should be on items such as artillery, which had proven to be effective and on which Ukrainian forces were already trained. He said it might be necessary to intensify delivery of such items and Ukraine’s allies would examine this possibility in coming days.

As the anniversary of Russia’s invasion approaches on Feb. 24, Kyiv has predicted an aggressive onslaught from Moscow aimed at notching territorial gains it can trumpet at the one-year mark, after months of little movement.

Asked on Ukrainian television if he agreed that the Russian offensive had already begun, Pavlo Krylenko, governor of the eastern Donetsk region, said on Thursday: “Yes, definitely.”

Around eastern towns like Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Vuhledar that have witnessed some of the bloodiest battles of the war, “the enemy’s forces and means are escalating there with daily intensity, he said.

According to Oleg Zhdanov, a Ukrainian military analyst, defenders in Bakhmut were still being supplied from the west, but were under pressure from three sides, with Russian forces entering two northern districts of the city two days ago.

“In the Avdiivka sector, Russian troops are trying to bring in reserves in order to take control of the centre of the contested town of Marinka,” Zhdanov said in his regular roundup of developments in conflict delivered on YouTube.

He said Ukrainian forces still controlled the centre of Marinka, contrary to Russian media reports that mopping up operations were underway.

The wider Donbas area of the east, comprised of Donetsk and Luhansk, has been one of Russia’s major objectives, and the Kremlin declared them in the autumn to be among four annexed territories after referendums decried as shams by the West.

“Over the past week to 10 days, the frequency of shelling has increased. The daily number of attacks has increased,” Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai told Ukrainian Radio NV on Thursday.

He said there was a major new Russian assault around Kreminna, along a northern stretch of the eastern front, but that Moscow’s forces were “having no significant success.”

Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield accounts.

KYIV EXPECTS WEAPONS, AIRCRAFT

Western countries that have provided Ukraine with arms have so far refused to send fighter jets or long-range weapons capable of striking deep inside Russia for fear of being drawn further into the conflict.

Zelenskiy began a European tour on Wednesday with a meeting in London with Britain’s Rishi Sunak and 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 stopped short of offering to supply the planes, but said nothing was off the table.

Zelenskiy said that some of what he had been promised in Paris by Macron and Scholz was still secret.

MOSCOW WARNS WEST AGAINST ESCALATION

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it would be Ukrainians who suffered if Britain or other Western countries supplied fighter jets to Kyiv, and that the line between indirect and direct Western involvement in the war was disappearing.

Russian forces have been advancing recently for the first time in half a year, fortified with tens of thousands of freshly mobilized recruits, in relentless winter battles that both sides describe as some of the bloodiest of the war.

At least 17 Russian missiles hit the southeastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia in an hour on Friday morning, its acting mayor, Anatolii Kurtiev, said. The attacks targeted energy infrastructure, he said on the Telegram messaging app, adding that information was being collected on damage and casualties.

Russian forces also launched a series of overnight strikes that knocked out power supplies in parts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, local officials said on Friday. There was no word on casualties.

“The occupiers hit critical infrastructure. There were about 10 explosions,” Kharkiv governor Oleh Synehubov said on Telegram. “In some regions, there are power cuts. Emergency services are on site.”

Russia launched the war 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 Russia’s invasion is an unprovoked land grab. — Reuters

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