France open to sending fighter jets to Ukraine but Biden rules out similar move

French president Emmanuel Macron has said he was open to sending fighter jets to Ukraine, as his US counterpart Joe Biden ruled out such a move.

Mr Macron did not say whether warplanes were on the agenda for his meeting in Paris on Tuesday with visiting Ukrainian defence minister Oleksii Reznikov, though he did say Ukraine would have to ask for them.

He also laid out several conditions under which France might consider supplying jets, including that the supplies would not escalate tensions, nor be used “to touch Russian soil”, and that the move would not “weaken the capacities of the French army”.

The president spoke to reporters alongside Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, who recently said there were “no taboos” about sending the warplanes, though he added it would be “a very big next step”.

The leaders’ remarks reflect how far Kyiv’s allies have moved in recent weeks.

For the best part of a year after the Russian invasion, Western nations refused Ukrainian pleas for tanks, fearing retaliation from Vladimir Putin.

But after deliberation among Nato members, several battalions’ worth of tanks are now on their way to the battlefield from Britain, the US, Poland and elsewhere, leaving the boundaries of support for Ukraine’s defence in motion.

France has sent Ukraine air-defence systems, rocket launcher units, cannons and other military equipment and has pledged to send armoured surveillance and combat vehicles, but has stopped short of sending battle tanks or heavier weaponry.

The Kremlin is furious about the tank shipments, accusing the West of effectively taking part in the war, and has vowed Russian forces would wipe out any tanks shipped to Ukraine.

Macron and Rutte in The Hague on Monday (AP)
Macron and Rutte in The Hague on Monday (AP)

Ukraine is preparing to launch a new offensive to retake territory from the Russians this spring and been stepping up demands for heavier weapons from Western allies.

Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Mr Reznikov, said last week he was confident that allies would give in to Ukraine’s pleas for jets.

Despite openness in some corners of Nato, two of the alliance’s biggest beasts have signalled they would not join allies in sending jets.

Hours after Mr Macron’s comments on Monday, US president Joe Biden said the US would not provide F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. Reports last week said a group of Pentagon officials were pushing for the president to take the step.

His refusal came after German president Olaf Scholz told a German newspaper he had ruled out sending fighter jets, just days after approving the supply of tanks.