The United States will not be sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine — at least not now.
Asked by a reporter outside the White House Monday if the U.S. would transfer the warplanes that Kyiv is pushing hard to receive, President Joe Biden responded: “No.”
The short remark is likely to send shockwaves across the Atlantic, following days of seeming momentum toward sending the fighter jets eastward. It could also sour relations with Kyiv when officials there were already feeling positive about a coordinated U.S.-German decision last week to send main battle tanks to the front lines.
But a U.S. official, when asked about Biden’s remark, said “there has been no serious, high-level discussion about F-16s.” In other words, it doesn’t appear that Biden’s pronouncement is the result of an internal policy review and instead is the current stance of the ultimate decision maker. That official spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal internal matters.
It’s also unclear from the video of the short exchange if the president’s “no” meant “never” or “not now.” The administration has said repeatedly that decisions about security assistance depend on battlefield realities in Ukraine. In a Thursday interview with MSNBC, deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said the U.S. would be discussing fighter jets “very carefully” with Kyiv and its allies.
“We have not ruled in or out any specific systems,” he added.
Another possibility is that the U.S. could approve the re-export of F-16s from third-party countries that operate them, a requirement for the transfer of the American-made warplanes.
Discussions about sending F-16s to Ukraine are gaining steam at the Pentagon, with one U.S. Defense Department official telling POLITICO last week: “I don’t think we are opposed.”
Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy, said Monday that Poland would be willing to provide its F-16s to Ukraine in coordination with NATO. Yet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has repeatedly rejected any F-16-related requests emanating from Kyiv.
“The question of combat aircraft does not arise at all,” Scholz said in an interview with Tagesspiegel published on Sunday. “I can only advise against entering into a constant competition to outbid each other when it comes to weapons systems.”