France plans to send Mirage fighter jets to Ukraine

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French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday said his country will send some Mirage fighter jets to Ukraine and train pilots to fly them, as part of a step-up in aid to help Kyiv resist Russian advances in its territory.

The pledge came after Nato allies, including Belgium, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands, committed to dispatching about 80 US-made F-16 fighters to Ukraine.

Macron said France was seeking to put together a coalition of countries that own the Mirage 2000 model, made by Dassault Aviation, so it remained to be seen how many aircraft would be sent to Ukraine.

“The goal is to have the pilots and the jets in Ukraine by the end of the year,” he added.

Nato allies will provide Ukraine with scores of F-16 fighters, starting this summer, and have been training Ukrainian pilots to fly the aircraft for several months.

The Mirage is a multi-role fighter jet which first entered service in the 1970s.

The 2000-5 is the most modern version, with advanced radar, but has been largely replaced in the French armed forces by the more advanced Rafale.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been pressing western allies to give the country more weapons and lift restrictions on their use, including by letting Kyiv target Russian territory.

Macron said last month Ukraine should be allowed to use western-made weapons to hit Russian military sites, and US President Joe Biden has given more limited permission.

Emmanuel Macron, right, greets Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the commemoration of the D-Day landings at Omaha Beach in Normandy © AFP via Getty Images

Zelenskyy on Thursday was in France for talks with Macron and to attend, alongside Biden, a series of events to mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy that changed the course of the second world war.

Biden used his address at Omaha Beach to call Russian President Vladimir Putin “a tyrant” and vow support for Ukraine.

Zelenskyy was expected to press the case for more military aid in a meeting with Biden, and he is due to address France’s parliament on Friday.

But one of Zelenskyy’s recent requests, for western allies to send military instructors to Ukraine to help quickly boost the ranks of its armed forces, has not yet been granted.

Although French officials hinted last month that Paris would announce such a move, Macron has stopped short of committing to dispatching people to carry out training.

He said on Thursday that talks were under way with other countries to put together a coalition of those willing to provide instructors.

“There should be no taboo on this since it would be on sovereign territory of Ukraine,” he said, adding he did not view this as an “escalatory factor” against Russia.

Putin has threatened to target western soldiers if they were sent to Ukraine, and put countries on notice that he saw this as a serious escalation.

Macron said France would train and equip an entire brigade of Ukrainian troops, of about 4,500 men.

Ukraine’s failed counteroffensive in the summer of last year demonstrated the country’s difficulty in mounting large-scale military operations involving more than a few hundred men.

In another sign of simmering tensions between France and Russia, Moscow on Thursday announced a French citizen had been arrested on suspicion of espionage.

Macron confirmed the arrest and said the person was employed by a non-governmental organisation, and had no role working for France.

Additional reporting by Ben Hall in London

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