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Ukraine F-16 training said to be a go

Biden shift on jets reported at G7 meeting by COMPILED BY DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE STAFF FROM WIRE REPORTS | May 20, 2023 at 4:38 a.m.
President Joe Biden attends a meeting Friday in Hiroshima in western Japan with other Group of Seven leaders. In a statement after private meetings, the G7 leaders vowed “to stand together against Russia’s illegal, unjustifiable and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine.” More photos at (AP/Japan Pool)

HIROSHIMA, Japan -- President Joe Biden told allies Friday that he was approving plans to train Ukrainian pilots on U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, according to two people familiar with the matter, as leaders of the world's most powerful democracies worked to toughen punishments on Russia for its 15-month invasion of Ukraine.

The Group of Seven leaders are meeting in Hiroshima, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy set to take part in their summit on Sunday.

The green light on F-16 training is the latest shift by the Biden administration as it moves to arm Ukraine with more advanced and lethal weaponry after earlier decisions to send rocket launcher systems and Abrams tanks. The U.S. has insisted that it is sending weapons to Ukraine to defend itself and has discouraged attacks by Ukraine into Russian territory.

The G7 leaders also used their summit to roll out a new wave of global sanctions on Moscow as well as plans to enhance the effectiveness of existing financial penalties meant to constrain President Vladimir Putin's war effort.

"Our support for Ukraine will not waver," the G7 leaders said in a statement released after private meetings. They vowed "to stand together against Russia's illegal, unjustifiable and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine."

"Russia started this war and can end this war," they said.

Zelenskyy has consistently called for the supply of Western fighter jets to bolster his country's defenses against Russia's invasion, but has until now faced skepticism from the U.S. that they would turn the tide in the war.

Several European countries that belong to the NATO alliance and have F-16s in their arsenals have called for an international effort to provide the training and transfer of their jets to Ukraine. Doing so would require American permission, because the weapons were first sold to them by the United States.

Officials at the G7 Summit said the United States and its allies would discuss in the coming months how to supply Kyiv with the jets, and one senior administration official said the White House was prepared to approve that step. The United States is not expected, at least under current plans, to send its own F-16s.

"I welcome the historic decision of the United States and @POTUS to support an international fighter jet coalition. This will greatly enhance our army in the sky," Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter.

Now, as Ukraine has improved its air defenses with a host of Western-supplied anti-aircraft systems and prepares to launch a counteroffensive against Russia, officials believe the jets could become useful in the battle and essential to the country's long-term security.

Biden's backing of training Ukrainian pilots on advanced fighter jets serves as a precursor to sending the jets to Ukraine for the first time. But decisions on when, how many, and who will provide the fourth-generation fighter jets will be made in the months ahead while the training is underway, Biden told leaders.

The F-16 training is to be conducted in Europe and will likely begin in the coming weeks. That's according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Biden's private conversations with allies.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, said on national television that Zelenskyy would attend the summit.

"There will be very important matters decided there, so physical presence is a crucial thing to defend our interests," Danilov said Friday.

Japanese officials said today Zelenskyy was scheduled to arrive at the summit later in the evening and would attend meetings on Sunday.


Zelenskyy's office said he was invited to attend the Arab League summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman before holding other bilateral meetings.

They discussed Zelenskyy's peace plan, the security situation in Ukraine and possible investments in the reconstruction of the country, a presidential statement said. Zelenskyy also invited Prince Mohammed to visit Ukraine.

Zelenskyy urged leaders at the summit to resist Moscow's influence and consider his peace proposals, which include the withdrawal of the Kremlin's forces from occupied areas of Ukraine.

"I'm more than sure that none of you will agree to surrender a third of your country to the invaders," Zelenskyy said in English.

"Another priority is the protection of the Muslim community of Ukraine," Zelenskyy said. "Crimea was the first to suffer from the Russian occupation, and most of those who suffer repression in occupied Crimea are Muslims."

Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev accompanied Zelenskyy on the visit.

European allies in recent weeks have warmed to the notion of sending fighter jets to Ukraine, as have elements of Biden's Cabinet, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has emerged as a staunch advocate within the administration. Under export licensing rules, the U.S. needed to sign off on any allied effort to train Ukrainian pilots or to provide them with the jets.


The latest sanctions aimed at Russia include tighter restrictions on already-sanctioned people and firms involved in the war effort. More than 125 individuals and organizations across 20 countries have been hit with U.S. sanctions. The financial penalties have been primarily focused on sanctions evaders connected to technology procurement for the Kremlin. The Commerce Department also added 71 firms to its own list.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the Friday sanctions "will further tighten the vise on Putin's ability to wage his barbaric invasion and will advance our global efforts to cut off Russian attempts to evade sanctions."

In addition, new reporting requirements were issued for people and firms that have any interest in Russian Central Bank assets. The purpose is to "fully map holdings of Russia's sovereign assets that will remain immobilized in G7 jurisdictions until Russia pays for the damage it has caused to Ukraine," the U.S. Treasury Department said.

Russia is now the most-sanctioned country in the world, but there are questions about the effectiveness.

Maria Snegovaya, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said going into the summit that while G7 countries "deserve credit" for their sanctions, "Russia still maintains capacity to fight this war in the long term."

She added that war's costs are "easily manageable for Russia in the next couple of years at least, and the cumulative effect of sanctions is just not strong enough to radically alter that."

The G7 nations said in Friday's statement that they would work to keep Russia from using the international financial system to prosecute its war, and they urged other nations to stop providing Russia with support and weapons "or face severe costs."

The European Union was focused on closing loopholes and plans to restrict trade in Russian diamonds, Charles Michel, president of the European Council, told reporters Friday.


Putin's nuclear threats against Ukraine, along with North Korea 's monthslong barrage of missile tests and China's rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal, have resonated with Japan's push to make nuclear disarmament a major part of the G7 summit. World leaders Friday visited a peace park dedicated to the tens of thousands who died in the world's first wartime atomic bomb detonation.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who represents Hiroshima in parliament, wants nuclear disarmament to be a major focus of discussions, and he formally started the summit at Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park.

The visit by world leaders was to a park dedicated to preserving reminders of Aug. 6, 1945, when a U.S. B-29 dropped an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, and the city has become synonymous with anti-nuclear peace efforts.

Biden, who scrapped plans to travel on to Papua New Guinea and Australia after his stay in Japan so that he can get back to debt limit talks in Washington, arranged to meet today on the G7 sidelines with leaders of the so-called Quad partnership, made up of Japan, Australia, India and the U.S.

G7 leaders and invited guests from several other countries today are also scheduled to discuss how to deal with China's growing assertiveness and military buildup as concerns rise that it could try to seize Taiwan by force, sparking a wider conflict. China claims the self-governing island as its own, and its ships and warplanes regularly patrol near it.

In a bit of dueling diplomacy, Chinese President Xi Jinping is hosting the leaders of the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan for a two-day summit in the Chinese city of Xi'an.

The G7 leaders are to discuss efforts to strengthen the global economy and address rising prices that are squeezing families and government budgets around the world, particularly in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

A U.S. official said the leaders would issue a joint communique today highlighting a common approach toward dealing with China, as well as outlining new projects in the G7's global infrastructure development initiative, which is meant to offer countries an alternative to China's investment dollars.

The G7 includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States as well as the European Union.


Meanwhile, Russian forces kept up their long-range bombardment of Ukrainian targets while drones reportedly damaged train lines behind their front line.

About 430 feet of railway track was damaged and trains were halted for hours after an explosion derailed eight cars of a freight train carrying grain in Russia-occupied Crimea, Russian state media reported Friday.

Thursday's blast prompted renewed suspicions about possible Ukrainian saboteur activity behind Russian lines.

Train traffic was also halted in northern Crimea on Thursday night after a drone hit a railway track near the town of Dzhankoi, Russia's Baza Telegram channel reported.

Sergei Aksyonov, the Kremlin-appointed head of Crimea, said in a separate post that four Ukrainian drones were shot down overnight in the peninsula's north. Aksyonov claimed there was no damage or casualties.

Russia overnight fired cruise missiles, drones and artillery at targets across Ukraine, killing two civilians, officials said Friday.

The attacks included an air assault on Kyiv for the second straight day and the 10th time in three weeks. The Kremlin's forces also took aim at central, eastern and southern Ukraine, and the western Lviv region near the border with Poland.

Russia launched 22 Iranian-made Shahed drones and six Kalibr cruise missiles during the night, the Ukrainian air force said. It said air defenses downed 16 drones and three missiles.

The Russian shelling killed two civilians and wounded nine others in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, said its governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko.

The missile attacks that have intensified recently aim to "disrupt Ukraine's plans and preparations for active military operations during the spring-summer campaign," according to a statement from Ukraine's intelligence agency, published on Telegram.

The targets are Ukraine's military control points and barracks, supply routes and the places where ammunition, equipment and fuel are stored, it said.

On Friday, the United Nations said operations to ship Ukrainian grain were "partially restarting," two days after Russia gave a green light to extend the deal for two months. The U.N. also urged a swift return to the previous tempo of ship arrivals and departures from all three Black Sea ports and inspections of their cargo.

U.N. associate spokesperson Stephanie Tremblay said the Joint Coordination Center, which includes representatives from the four parties involved in the deal -- Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations -- approved the registration Friday of six new vessels to participate in the grain shipments. Nine applications to participate remain pending, she said.

No ships are currently loading at any of the three ports, Tremblay said, but inspection teams from the center checked and cleared three new vessels Friday to proceed to the ports of Odesa and Chornomorsk.

Information for this article was contributed by Zeke Miller, Foster Klug, Josh Boak, Elaine Kurtenbach, Adam Schreck, Mari Yamaguchi, Raf Casert, Hanna Arhirova, Fatima Hussein, Susie Blann and Edith M. Lederer of The Associated Press; and David E. Sanger, Jim Tankersley, Michael Crowley and Eric Schmitt of The New York Times.

  photo  The Group of Seven leaders pose for a photo Friday at the Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima. (AP/Stefan Rousseau)

 Gallery: Group of Seven summit continues in Japan

Print Headline: Ukraine F-16 training said to be a go


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