Paris For Oleksiy Reznikov it was the first bilateral visit to a European capital: the Ukrainian Defense Minister first met French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu and then President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Tuesday. Hopes in Kyiv seem high that France will act as some kind of icebreaker in the hotly debated delivery of Western fighter jets – just as it did in early January, when Macron rushed forward with a pledge to provide Ukraine with reconnaissance tanks.
Reznikov said at a press conference with Lecornu that he wanted the French to have a “leadership” role in fighter jets. “That’s why I’m here.” Kyiv has reportedly kept a close eye on the Mirage jets, which the French armed forces are currently gradually phasing out and replacing with the more modern Rafale.
After battle tanks, fighter jets are the next piece of armament that the Ukrainian government is requesting for defense against Russia. While US President Joe Biden answered the question about a possible F-16 delivery to Ukraine with a narrow “no” on Monday, Macron opted for a more open choice of words.
During a visit to the Netherlands, he said: “In principle, nothing is forbidden.” There are no concrete plans for a delivery. However, Paris would have a free hand in making the decision: the Mirage jets were built by the French armaments company Dassault. It would therefore not require the approval of the United States, which would be necessary in the event of a possible delivery of Polish F-16 jets to the Ukrainians.
Reznikov did not want to say at the press conference whether his government had made an official request to supply fighter jets to France. They did talk about aircraft, but not about specific names and models, but about “platforms” of air defense.
“France has prepared the way”
However, the Ukrainian defense minister hinted that he would like France to make a similar push as with the AMX-10 RC reconnaissance tank. One day after Macron, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) announced the sale of Marder infantry fighting vehicles.
As a result of breaking this taboo, Scholz also agreed to deliver Leopard 2 main battle tanks in the face of growing national and international pressure. Biden agreed to send the M1 Abrams. “France paved the way,” said Reznikov. “It started the avalanche.”
After the reconnaissance tank announcement, Paris then hesitated to deliver the Leclerc, the counterpart to the Leopard 2. Officially, Paris is still examining the matter, but the talks on Tuesday indicated that the French main battle tank would not be used in Ukraine.
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Lecornu referred to the three conditions that Macron had formulated for arms deliveries: They must not lead to a further escalation of the conflict, must represent “real and effective” help for the Ukrainian army and must not weaken “our own defense capabilities”.
The French defense minister downplayed the benefits of the Leclerc for the Ukrainians: the Leclerc is “a technological gem”, but also very high-maintenance. In addition, he was “not an export hit” – an allusion to the significantly larger leopard stocks in the European armies. Resnikov explained that the talks in Paris also dealt with the Leclerc, but that there were questions about “maintenance”.
Instead of the Leclerc tanks, France announced on Tuesday that it would deliver twelve more Caesar howitzers to Ukraine. Previously, Paris had already provided 18 of the mobile artillery pieces, one of which Lecornu says is now out of action.
In addition, Ukraine is to receive a GM 200 air surveillance radar from France. Built by French defense company Thales, the radar can detect enemy aircraft within a 150-mile radius.
France wants to train Ukrainian soldiers in Poland
France also intends to ensure the training of 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers in France by the summer. Lecornu also announced that 150 French soldiers would be sent to Poland to work with Polish soldiers to train 600 Ukrainian fighters per month.
Also under discussion is the delivery of the Franco-Italian air defense system SAMP/T, which can intercept medium and long-range missiles. The state-of-the-art system, also known as “Mamba” in the French armed forces, would significantly strengthen Ukraine’s anti-aircraft defenses with its surface-to-air missiles. Reznikov said Tuesday he welcomed the “work in progress” to deploy SAMP/T.
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