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Russia warns of ‘colossal risks’ if F-16 fighter jets sent to Ukraine

Moscow accuses Western countries of ‘still adhering to the escalation scenario’

Katy Clifton
Saturday 20 May 2023 21:50 BST
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Ukrainian president Zelensky arrives in Japan for G7 summit

Russia has warned Western countries that supplying Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets would carry “colossal risks”, after US president Joe Biden announced the US would support the delivery of warplanes.

As G7 leaders met for the second day of the summit in Japan, Russian deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko accused Western countries of “still adhering to the escalation scenario”.

“It involves colossal risks for themselves,” he added. “In any case, this will be taken into account in all our plans, and we have all the necessary means to achieve the goals we have set.”

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky has long stressed the need for F-16 jets, but the US previously hesitated to provide them. The warplanes can travel at twice the speed of sound and can engage with targets in the air and on the ground.

Joe Biden (right) and Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo at the G7 Summit (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of J)

Mr Biden has now informed his allies that it will allow the advanced planes to be donated to Kyiv. Mr Biden, who is attending the G7 with other members, also announced training for Ukrainian pilots.

It comes as Ukraine has denied claims by Russia that it has taken full control of Bakhmut but warned the situation in the key battle town is “critical”.

Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s defence minister, pushed back on the claim by Yevgeny Prigozhin that his Wagner Group of mercenaries had seized the town around lunchtime.

“Heavy fighting in Bakhmut. The situation is critical,” she said on the Telegram messaging app. “As of now, our defenders control some industrial and infrastructure facilities in the area and the private sector.”

Prime minister Rishi Sunak welcomed President Biden’s decision on the F-16 fighter jets, having previously pressed allies to provide the Ukrainian president with the jets.

“The UK will work together with the USA and the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark to get Ukraine the combat air capability it needs. We stand united,” he said in a statement.

The RAF does not have any US-manufactured F-16s.

Mr Zelensky touched down in Japan to join the G7 summit on Saturday morning, saying in a statement that “peace will become closer” as he headed to talks.

It is understood it was Mr Sunak who suggested to the Ukrainian war leader that he should attend the Asian summit in person. Mr Sunak is understood to have pitched the idea during a phone call about a month ago before it was then broached with the Japanese hosts.

Mr Zelensky’s presence at the meeting will potentially bring him into contact with India’s Narendra Modi and Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who have not supported Ukraine like their Western allies.

Neither are G7 members, but India is being represented at the summit because it is the current G20 chair, while Brazil has been invited as a guest.

Rishi Sunak and Volodymyr Zelensky were pictured embracing on Saturday (Getty)

Mr Zelensky’s attendance at the G7, the group that Russia was expelled from over its 2014 annexation of Crimea, is another show of solidarity from Western allies.

Japan said Mr Zelensky has a “strong wish” to take part in the talks that will influence his nation’s defence against Vladimir Putin.

Volodymyr Zelensky holds a meeting with Italy’s prime minister Giorgia Meloni (not pictured) (POOL/AFP/Getty)

On Saturday, Mr Sunak met with French president Emmanuel Macron for discussions at the summit and had a short “brush-by” meeting with German chancellor Olaf Scholz.

They discussed providing military aid and “longer-term security assistance” to Ukraine as well as tackling small boat crossings of the Channel, Downing Street said.

Meanwhile, the G7 announced it would establish a new team to root out and counter Russia and China’s use of economic coercion to influence nations’ decisions.

G7 leaders meeting in Japan (AP)

Worried by the outsized role China now plays in supply chains for everything from semiconductors to critical minerals, the G7 issued a communique that set out a common strategy towards future dealings with the world’s second-largest economy.

“We call on China to press Russia to stop its military aggression, and immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw its troops from Ukraine,” the leaders said in a statement.

They warned that countries attempting to use trade as a weapon would face “consequences”, sending a strong signal to Beijing over practices Washington says amount to economic bullying.

“We are not decoupling or turning inwards. At the same time, we recognise that economic resilience requires de-risking and diversifying,” they said. “A growing China that plays by international rules would be of global interest.”

Later on Saturday, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has asked Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, head of the Italian bishops’ conference, to carry out a peace mission to try to help end the war in Ukraine.

Pope Francis first spoke of his intention to launch a mission when he was returning from a trip to Hungary last month.

A Vatican diplomatic source said Cardinal Zuppi would try to meet separately with both President Zelenskiy and Russia’s President Putin but gave no timescale for the plans.

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