Ukrainian prime minister directly asks Pentagon chief for fighter jets

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal on Wednesday directly appealed to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for U.S. fighter jets and longer-range missiles in its fight against Russia, echoing the country’s repeated calls for modern weaponry.

“We will win this war,” Shmyhal said at the top of a meeting between the two at the Pentagon. “But to achieve it faster and with fewer casualties, Ukraine still needs intensive military support — more air defense systems that minimize the impact of Russian airstrikes, more heavy artillery, mortars and ammunition for them. We also ask you for reconsider the possibility of providing Ukraine with longer range missiles.” 

Austin, while not commenting on the request, committed to investing in the U.S. defense industrial base to further ramp up production for weapons sent to Ukraine. 

Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion a little more than a year ago has pressed the United States and NATO for advanced fighter jets to protect the country’s skies. 

While some NATO states including Slovakia and Poland have agreed to send Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, Western countries have so far held off on sending the more advanced F-15 and F-16 fighters Kyiv is asking for.  

The Biden administration has not been swayed by Slovakia and Poland’s pledges to send its own jets, saying that the choice is a “sovereign decision.” 

Kyiv has also asked for longer-range missile systems in the fight, though the U.S. government has held off on supplying such weapons over concerns Ukraine may use them to strike targets within Russia, which is against U.S. policy.  

At Wednesday’s gathering, which marked the second Pentagon meeting between Austin and Shmyhal, the Ukrainian official thanked Washington for its “significant military support,” including sending Abrams tanks and Bradley and Stryker infantry fighting vehicles, according to a readout of the meet up. 

But he also asked Austin for more heavy equipment and aircraft.  

“In modern warfare, air superiority is crucial,” Shmyhal said. “That is why Ukraine is initiating the building of a new, so-called fighter jet coalition. And we are inviting the United States to become its most important participant. America can once again demonstrate its leadership by providing Ukraine with F-15 or F-16 aircraft.” 

Austin, in turn, thanked Ukraine for making sure U.S. lethal aid already provided is accounted for. 

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