Having secured the transfer of Western Leopard and Abrams tanks, Kyiv now wants jet fighters.
According to Politico, conversations with more than half a dozen Western military officials and diplomats confirm that internal debates about supplying Ukraine with jet fighters are already underway at the initiative of Ukrainian officials with the support of hawkish Baltic states.
“The next natural step would be fighters,” a diplomat from a northern European country said.
The debate is likely to prove even more complicated than the tank supply scandal. In Europe, several officials and diplomats said their governments no longer consider the idea a failure, but fears of escalation remain high.
Washington has told Kyiv that supplying aircraft is a “no-go, for the moment,” the diplomat quoted above said, but added: “There’s a red line there — but last summer we had a red line on the HIMARS [multiple rocket launchers], and that moved. Then it was battle tanks, and that’s moving.”
A second high-ranking European official also emphasized the speed at which Western arms deliveries are increasing. “Fighters are completely unconceivable today,” they said, “but we might have this discussion in two, three weeks.”
Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Wopke Hoekstra told the Dutch parliament last week that his Cabinet would look at supplying F-16 fighter jets, if Kyiv requests them. “We are open-minded, there are no taboos,” he said.
Other senior politicians are far less fanatical. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday ruled out fighter jet deliveries, citing the need to prevent further military escalation. “There will be no fighter jet deliveries to Ukraine,” he said. “This was made clear very early, including from [the] U.S. president.”
Some officials believe the discussion at Ramstein next month will focus more on developing a contingency plan in case jet fighters are urgently needed at some point in the future, rather than making a deal on deliveries in the near future.
Ukraine's European allies foresee a conflict that could last another three to five years or longer, and there are fears that the West is close to the limit of what can be provided without causing a sharp reaction from Moscow.
Early last year, Western allies agreed on an "unwritten policy" not to supply Ukraine with a full weapons package immediately after the invasion because of fears of the "response from Russia," said a third senior diplomat from another European government. .
The thinking was that the West should provide support gradually, assessing Russia's reaction at every step.
“Many countries in the West think that if we were to supply Ukraine with all the hardware they asked us [for] in the first phase of the war, there would be a strong Russian reaction, including nuclear. You may call this a process of getting [Putin] accustomed,” the diplomat said.
The strategy has been a slow but steadily increasing trend of Western support, from Javelins anti-tank and man-portable air defense systems such as Stingers to HIMARS and, more recently, Patriot surface-to-air missiles, tanks and armored vehicles.
Thus, the delivery of aircraft is "only a matter of when," the same diplomat predicted.