The Zelensky government’s longtime lobbying of Western capitals to supply advanced fighter jets just got a big boost, after on Monday French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed his country has “opened the door” to training Ukrainian fighter pilots.
He said this the day after he hosted President Volodymyr Zelensky in Paris, amid a broader European tour by the Ukrainian delegation, wherein Macron also pledged to send more tanks to help defend against Russia.
“We have opened the door to training pilots, and this with several other European countries who are also ready,”Macron told France’s TV channel TF1.
Macron additionally said that “discussions were underway with the Americans” concerning a pilot training program. This essentially catches France up to where the UK and US already are: both have yet to approve sending jets but have established pilot training programs in anticipation of a possible future greenlight.
When asked directly whether France would supply jets, Macron responded it was not in the plans at the moment but that training for Western fighters could “start now”. Ukrainian pilots are typically used to operating Soviet-made aircraft.
Zelensky touted this week he plans to push for a “fighter jet coalition” which would give advanced Western-made aircraft to Ukraine’s air force, but this has consistently met quiet resistance – by the Biden administration for example – on fears it would bring Russia and NATO into a direct clash.
Perhaps echoing these fears, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the start of this week that the question of jets “was not a straightforward thing.”
A French official also addressed the serious hurdles facing any future plan to given Ukrainians jets. “Before delivering a plane, you need to train pilots. It takes a long time. Ukrainian pilots are not trained to use French systems. They don’t speak French, let alone English,” an unnamed Elysée official told Politico.
Another question is whether the Ukrainians would use jets to attack border areas inside Russia’s territory, as they are now doing with drones, despite Zelensky’s official stance of not having “approved” such measures. However, recent Pentagon leaks show otherwise…