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Ukraine updates: Russia rebukes possible F-16s to Kyiv

Published May 20, 2023last updated May 20, 2023

Russia's deputy foreign minister warned of "colossal risks" if NATO countries provided F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met India's Narendra Modi for the first time since the war.

Close up phot of an F-16 Fighting Falcon
US and European allies have supplied air defense systems they said was most needed by Ukraine to fight the warImage: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Siuta B. Ika via ABACA/picture alliance

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko issued a stark warning against a Western possibility of supplying Kviv with F-16 fighter jets, Russian state news agency TASS reported.

"We see that Western countries are still adhering to the escalation scenario. It involves colossal risks for themselves," Russian state news agency TASS quoted him as saying. 

Ukraine has long asked for the more advanced fighter planes, saying they are superior to its Soviet-era fleet. But the US and other NATO countries had so far resisted, usually citing the need to first train Ukrainian pilots to fly them, but also often saying that other weapons systems like air defense and armored vehicles were more of a priority.

Sending F-16s to Ukraine 'not a game-changer': Charles Kupchan, Council on Foreign Relations

Concern about the move being seen as a further escalation by Russia was likely also a factor in the hesitancy if less commonly said in public. 

President Joe Biden on Friday, however, said the US would support a joint effort with allies to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s during a summit with G7 leaders in Hiroshima, Japan. This follows similar pledges from European countries.

US officials in recent weeks have signaled that the US would not block efforts by European allies to transfer the American-made planes either.

The US has not provided details on decisions on when, how many, and who might supply F-16s, and stopped just short of categorically guaranteeing future deliveries on Friday.

Earlier this week, the UK and the Netherlands announced an agreement to build an "international coalition" to help procure the fighter jets. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Saturday "for the leadership of the United Kingdom in the international fighter jet coalition," after meeting him on the sidelines of the G7 summit on Saturday.

The G7 leaders in a joint statement on Saturday vowed to intensify the pressure on Moscow, saying "Russia's brutal of aggression represents a threat to the whole world in breach of fundamental norms, rules and principles of the international community."

"We reaffirm our unwavering support for Ukraine for as long as it takes to bring a comprehensive, just and lasting peace," the statement read.

What difference would fighter jets make for Ukraine?

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning Russia's war in Ukraine on Saturday, May 20:

Pope asks Italian cardinal to carry out Ukraine peace mission

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, the Vatican said.

A Vatican diplomatic source said Zuppi would try to meet separately with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Vatican said in a statement that Zuppi would carry out the mission, in accordance with the Vatican's Secretariat of State, "to contribute to reducing tensions of the conflict in Ukraine, in the hope, never given up by the Holy Father, that this could start peace processes".

According to the Vatican, the timing and specifics of the mission were still being worked out.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met Pope Francis at the Vatican last Saturday but afterward appeared to downplay the possibility of mediating.

A Vatican statement on the day of Zelenskyy's visit made no mention of any such mission and Zelenskyy said he asked the pope to back Kyiv's own peace plan, which calls for restoring Ukraine's territorial integrity, the withdrawal of Russian troops and cessation of hostilities.

ICC member states say Russia putting prosecutor on wanted list is deplorable

The member states of the International Criminal Court said Russia's placing of the court's prosecutor and several judges on a wanted list is deeply concerning and deplorable.
The ICC's British prosecutor, Karim Khan, has been added to the Russian Interior Ministry's wanted list on Friday.

The comments came from the presidency of the Assembly of States Parties to the ICC, the court's management oversight body, comprised of its 123 member states.

Russia is not a member of the ICC.

Bakhmut fighting: Wagner chief claims control, while Ukraine says situation critical

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of the Russian Wagner mercenary group, claimed that his forces had taken control of the embattled city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

"Today on May 20, around midday, Bakhmut was taken in its entirety," Prigozhin claimed in a video. "By May 25 we will completely examine [Bakhmut], create the necessary lines of defense and hand it to the military."

Prigozhin has made similar claims before several times, and also far more downbeat assertions about his figthers' progress very recently, however. 

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar disputed Pirgozhin's claim roughly within an hour of the video being released, saying Kyiv's forces "control certain industrial and infrastructure facilities in this area." She did however say that the situation was "critical."

The mining town lies in Donetsk province, one of four regions of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed last fall.

Moscow controls about half of the province and sees Bakhmut as a stepping stone to advance onto other cities in the region.

Ukrainian troops make advances in Bakhmut

Zelenskyy meets India's Modi for first time since war began

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met India's Prime Minister Modi for the first time on the sidelines of the G7 summit since Russia invaded Ukraine.

India has refrained from condemning Russia's role in the war and has abstained several times from voting on United Nations resolutions condemning Moscow's invasion.

It has instead focused on the need for dialogue and diplomacy to resolve the conflict, rather than joining in sanctions against Russia, for instance.

"I understand your pain and the pain of Ukrainian citizens very well. I can assure you that to resolve this India and, me personally, will do whatever we can do," Modi told Zelenskyy.

Zelenskyy briefed Modi on his 10-point peace plan, which includes establishing a special tribunal to prosecute Russian war crimes and creating a Europe-Atlantic security architecture with guarantees for Ukraine.

India, whose close ties with Russia date back to the Cold War era, depends on Moscow for nearly 60% of its defense equipment and has ramped up its purchases of low-priced Russian oil since the war began. 

Ukraine's Zelenskyy makes surprise appearance at G7 summit

More DW coverage on Russia's war in Ukraine 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is attending the theannual Group of Seven (G7) summitin Hiroshima in western Japan, a day after attending the Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia to rally support for his country.

Zelenskyy in Japan for G7 summit: Richard Walker reports

dh,rm/msh (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa) 

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