Ukraine pushes for Western warplane ‘coalition’

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, said Poland will assist in forming a coalition of Western nations to send jets to Kyiv on Wednesday (5 April), as his fighters defended their eastern bastion of Bakhmut against constant Russian assaults.

Zelenskyy claimed during a visit to Warsaw that Poland had been crucial in persuading Western allies to provide battle tanks to Ukraine and that he thought it could do the same for a “planes coalition.”

The Polish government announced it would deploy 10 additional MiG fighter jets in addition to the initial four, but the United States and Ukraine’s other main military partners have not yet agreed to deliver the F-16 fighters Kyiv has asked for.

Zelenskyy disputed claims by Russian forces that they had taken the city, which was in ruins from months of shelling and attritional fighting, by saying, “We are in Bakhmut and the enemy does not control it.”

“For me, the most important thing is not to lose our soldiers,” Zelenskiy said, ostensibly alluding to a possible withdrawal. “Of course, if there is a moment of even hotter events and the danger we could lose our personnel because of encirclement – of course the corresponding correct decisions will be taken by generals there.”

One of the fiercest battles of Russia’s invasion, which is now in its fourteenth month, was fought for Bakhmut, one of the last urban areas in eastern Donetsk Province that have not yet fallen to Russia.

Ukrainian military commanders have stressed the importance of holding Bakhmut and other cities and inflicting losses on Russian troops before an anticipated counter-offensive against them in the coming weeks or months.

“Bakhmut is performing the key task of inflicting as many losses on Russia as possible and, most importantly, to prepare for a counter-attack to take place in late April-May,” military analyst Pavel Narozhniy told NV Radio in Ukraine.

The US-based Institute for the Study of War said mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner private militia were likely to continue trying to consolidate control of the city centre and push westward through dense urban neighbourhoods.

Polish President Andrzej Duda said Warsaw was working to secure additional security guarantees for Ukraine at a NATO summit to be held in Lithuania in July.

In addition to MiG-29s, Kyiv has also pressed NATO for F-16 jet fighters but Duda’s foreign policy adviser, Marcin Przydacz, said Poland would not decide soon on whether to send any.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told state TV that Moscow needed to maintain relations with Washington even though American supplies of weapons to Ukraine meant “we are really in a hot phase of the war”.

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