A former top soldier in the United States says he expects that Western countries will eventually furnish Ukraine with fighter jets, fulfilling one of the embattled country’s most urgent requests.
“I think the F-16s will be provided, it’s hard to know exactly when but I think they’re coming,” said Mike Mullen, a retired admiral and former chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, in an interview airing Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live.
Mullen told guest host David Common that shipments of fighter jets to Ukraine could make a “significant difference” on the battlefield, and that Ukraine’s top area of vulnerability was air defence. In recent days Russia has renewed a barrage of missile attacks against Ukrainian cities.
The attacks have “one goal in mind, to destroy life and leave nothing of humanity,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy this week.
Two Ukrainian pilots are currently in the United States training on F-16 flight simulators, U.S. media reported last week.
Mullen gave credit to American leadership and other countries in the West for bolstering Ukraine’s ground-based defences, with artillery and new tanks — including the Leopard 2 main battle tanks provided by Canada. He said Ukraine had the potential to have a “devastating effect on any kind of ground attack that the Russians bring forward.”
The war in Ukraine has been stuck in a grinding stalemate over the winter, but Western countries are working to once more fortify Ukraine with weapons and munitions ahead of an expected Russian offensive in the spring.
Twenty-five Canadian soldiers are currently in western Poland training Ukrainian soldiers to use the advanced tanks, as part of Operation UNIFIER, Canada’s mission to train Ukrainian military members. That mission is part of the broader Canadian effort to support Ukraine, which includes over $1 billion in military aid.
Lt.-Col. Chris Boileau, the current task force commander of Operation UNIFIER, said in an interview Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live that the first cadre of Ukrainian soldiers had just graduated from the training and returned to the front lines.
Leopards ‘night and day’ with Ukrainian tanks
Boileau noted that the biggest challenge in training the Ukrainian tankers was the difference between older Soviet technology and the newer Leopard 2s.
“Top speed, their firepower, armour package and overall capabilities are, to put it mildly, night and day,” Boileau told Common.
“So being able to take an even experienced tanker and then move them into more complex and in-depth technology is a challenge,” he said.
Boileau noted that Operation UNIFIER had increased in size dramatically since his time in command, with the training force doubled in roughly the past six months. He also said that the “education has been occurring in both ways” as Canadians imparted some skills in urban warfare, but also learned from the experience of their Ukrainian counterparts.
For example, Boileau said, Canadians were hearing about what it was like to operate with a “pervasive drone threat,” something with which Canada does not have experience.
Efforts to maintain pro-Ukraine unity
There are some concerns that resolve in Western countries may be weakening, with elements of some opposition parties, including Republican representatives in the United States, calling for an end to aid to Ukraine.
U.S. President Joe Biden recently travelled to Ukraine and Poland to reaffirm his administration’s support, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen took a similar tour of North America this week, including an address to Parliament in the House of Commons.
In Canada, Green co-leader Jonathan Pedneault walked back some recent comments around the idea that Ukraine might use weapons from the West to push beyond its own borders.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said his party was supportive of helping end Russia’s invasion, though he noted Canada needed to get “results for our money.”
“The problem with this government is not that they don’t spend enough, it’s that they don’t achieve enough results for the spending they do. They spend too much money on back office bureaucracy and not enough on frontline military equipment.”
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