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Italy rejects Ukraine's request for fighter jets

Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (L) and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky attend a joint news conference in Kiev, Ukraine, on February 21, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has rejected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's request to supply Kiev with its old fighter jets.

Speaking at a press conference alongside Zelensky during a visit to Kiev on Tuesday,  Meloni said, "At the moment, the supply of planes is not on the table," adding that any future decision to provide Kiev with jet fighters would be made "in consultation with international partners."

Meloni's comments followed reports in Italy that Rome was mulling supplying Kiev with its old AMX jet fighters.

Leonardo Tricarico, the president of the ICSA think tank and a former Italian Air Force chief, said US-made F-16 jets would be better suited for Kiev than Italy's old jets fighters. "The need for training and logistics for an aircraft that only Italy has would mean a huge commitment for a modest flight line," he said.

Given that the AMX jet fighter is limited to a ground attack role, Tricarico said obtaining the more versatile F-16 would be a better objective for Zelensky. The F-16 has air-to-air capabilities and could deliver heavier bombs. "Additionally, many air forces use the F-16," he said.

While rejecting the demands for the fighter jets, Italy is "within weeks" of sending a Samp-T air defense battery to Ukraine, Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told Italian daily La Stampa on Tuesday.

During her visit to Ukraine, Meloni was keen to show Italy's support for Ukraine, particularly after she was embarrassed last week by one of her coalition allies, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who offered a stout defense of Russia.

Berlusconi, who is a longtime friend of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, blamed Zelensky for what he called forcing Russia to attack Ukraine, saying, "I judge this gentleman (Zelensky) very, very negatively."

Last month, Zelensky succeeded in getting state-of-the-art tanks he had long sought, and immediately appealed to the West for military planes. For months, Western countries had been refusing Kiev's demands for battle tanks.

Russia launched what it calls "a special military operation" in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, over the perceived threat of the ex-Soviet republic joining NATO. Since then, the United States and Ukraine's other allies have sent Kiev tens of billions of dollars' worth of weapons, including rocket systems, drones, armored vehicles, tanks, and communication systems.

Western countries have also imposed a slew of economic sanctions on Moscow. The Kremlin has said the sanctions and the Western military assistance will only prolong the war.

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