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Biden To Speak With Zelenskiy As Ukraine's Calls For Fighter Jets Grow Louder

By RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service January 31, 2023

U.S. President Joe Biden says he will speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy about Ukraine's latest request for sophisticated weapons a day after saying no to sending F-16 fighter jets.

Kyiv has been pressing harder for the advanced jets since winning a pledge from Western allies last week for tanks. The United States and its European allies have so far refused to send fighter jets and other weapons that could be used to attack deep inside Russia.

Biden responded negatively when asked by reporters on January 30 if Washington would send F-16s. He told reporters on January 31 that he and Zelenskiy were "going to talk" but gave no further details.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who was to meet with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov in Paris on January 31, sent a mixed message, telling reporters on January 30 that "nothing is excluded" when it comes to military assistance.

But Macron, speaking in The Hague, said conditions would have to be met before fighter jets would be sent.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also did not rule out a possible supply of F-16s to Ukraine in comments he made on January 30. But on January 31, Polish Deputy Defense Minister Wojciech Skurkiewicz told the AFP news agency that Poland currently is not having "official discussions" on transferring any of its own F-16s to Ukraine.

Britain, which earlier this month pledged to provide tanks to Ukraine, on January 31 rejected sending fighter jets. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak believes it is "not practical" to provide them, according to a Downing Street statement. It said training Ukrainian forces on "extremely sophisticated" Typhoons and F-35s would take too long, but it does not oppose allies sending their own jets.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda urged the West to keep all options open to requests from Ukraine for weaponry, including fighter jets.

Nauseda said in an interview with Lithuanian television on January 31 that fighter aircraft and long-range missiles are "essential military aid" and "at this crucial stage in the war, where the turning point is about to happen, it is important that we act without delay."

The stepped-up calls for the aircraft come with Russia showing no sign of letting up in its attacks.

Several air raid alerts were issued across Ukraine on January 31 in anticipation of possible fresh Russian air strikes on civilian and energy infrastructure as heavy fighting continued unabated in the east.

A total of three large-scale air raid warnings were announced late in the morning and early in the afternoon for all Ukrainian regions. They were subsequently canceled and there have been no reports of Russian strikes since.

Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ignat said the announcement of the air alert was connected with flights of Russian MiG-31K fighters, which can carry hypersonic Kinzhal Dagger missiles. He said on Ukrainian television that "air alarms are announced when this type of aircraft takes off."

"The fact that they were not long indicates that these were ordinary training flights," he added.

Such training flights can be carried out both for the purpose of putting psychological pressure on Ukraine and on Europe, Ignat said.

In recent months, Russian missile strikes have targeted critical infrastructure and civilian installations, causing extensive damage to Ukraine's electricity grid in the depths of winter and claiming victims among civilians.

Moscow has repeatedly denied it targets civilians despite widespread evidence to the contrary.

On the battlefield, British intelligence said Russians have launched a "more concerted" assault on Vuhledar, a coal mining town in Donetsk that has become the latest focal point of the battle for control of eastern Ukraine.

However, in its daily bulletin on January 31, the British Defense Ministry said that Moscow lacked the numbers to press a notable advance in the area.

"There is a realistic possibility that Russia will continue to make local gains in the sector. However, it is unlikely that Russia has sufficient uncommitted troops in the area to achieve an operationally significant breakthrough," it said on Twitter.

Ukraine's General Staff reported three Russian air strikes and four missile strikes, as well as more than 60 salvos from rocket systems that targeted Ukrainian settlements.

"The enemy continues to conduct offensive actions in the Lyman and Bakhmut directions, suffering heavy losses," the General Staff said in its morning report.

"[The enemy] conducted unsuccessful offensive actions in the Avdiyivka and Novopavliyivka directions. In the direction of Kupyansk and Zaporizhzhya, the enemy is struggling to defend its positions," it said.

Russia claimed to have captured a village on the northern edge of Bakhmut with the help of aerial support. There was no immediate response to the claim from Kyiv.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-fighting-vuhledar- strikes/32247201.html

Copyright (c) 2023. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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