President Biden’s weekend announcement that the U.S. will join Ukraine’s fighter jet coalition marks the latest backtrack from the White House on what military aid is necessary to counter Russia’s invasion.
Biden told world leaders at the G7 summit Saturday that the U.S. would help train Ukrainians to use high-tech fighters, including F-16s, amid signs that the U.S. will eventually allow European nations send their F-16s to Ukraine. Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, told CNN on Sunday that the change of tone from the White House is a simply a matter of providing Ukraine with what they now deem necessary for the war as it develops.
“The United States has mobilized an exceptional effort to deliver on time and in full everything Ukraine needs to launch this counteroffensive,” Sullivan said. “Fourth-generation fighter aircraft, Western fighter aircraft, F-16s are relevant to that fight.”
This message is a shift from Biden’s previous claims that these fighter jets were unnecessary for Ukraine to defend its territory against Russia.
“I am ruling it out for now,” Biden told CBS in February of the possibility of sending jets to Ukraine, adding that “there is no basis upon which there is a rationale, according to our military now, to provide F-16s.”
A similar decision was made in January when Biden announced the U.S. would provide tanks to Ukraine. The announcement came weeks after Colin Kahl, the Under Secretary of Defense, said the Ukrainian military would be unable to manage U.S. tank systems.
“Abrams tank is a very complicated piece of equipment,” Kahl said. “We should not be providing the Ukrainians systems they can’t repair, they can’t sustain, and that they, over the long term, can’t afford, because it’s not helpful.”
The Biden administration for months last year also dodged requests from Ukraine for the U.S. to provide the Patriot missile system.
“In terms of any type of Patriot battery from the U.S., right now we have no plans to provide Patriot batteries to Ukraine but again, we’ll continue to have those discussions,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in November.
This position changed once Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the White House in December, which was highlighted by Biden’s announcement to provide the missile system.
The White House has made clear there are two situations it will not allow at any point in the Russia-Ukraine war: U.S. troops will not be deployed, and U.S. military equipment will not be used in Russian territory.
Sullivan did suggest Sunday that Biden will allow Ukraine to use U.S. military equipment to launch a potential counteroffensive in the Crimea, which the White House declares of part of Ukraine. The Crimea was annexed by Russia in 2014.
“We have not placed limitations on Ukraine being able to strike on its territory within its internationally recognized borders,” Sullivan told CNN. “What we have said is that we will not enable Ukraine with U.S. systems, Western systems, to attack Russia. And we believe Crimea is Ukraine.”
The decision to help Ukraine utilize F-16 jets comes weeks after a leaked Pentagon report showed U.S. intelligence in March had begun to fear Russia could win the war.
The U.S. has approved more than $75 billion in miliary aid to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion.