The Pentagon on Wednesday said Ukraine would receive spare parts and not complete fighter jets after Washington was forced to confirm the contents of its latest arms shipment to Kyiv.
It came as Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, suggested full fighter jets were on their way. But he said he “was not ready to say how many planes are coming” in the latest tranche of military aid.
“I am, of course, not ready to mention details of what we’re getting,” he added. “This is part of our defensive capacity.”
Mr Zelensky has made Russian-made fighter jets and air defence systems his number one demand to Nato countries promising lethal aid to Kyiv.
Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the wartime leader has pleaded with Western counterparts to enforce a no-fly zone above his country.
Shipments of Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets, which Ukrainian pilots are trained to operate, are seen as a viable alternative by Kyiv to protect its skies.
Mr Zelensky has repeatedly urged Nato to send fighter planes to help his forces strike Russian targets.
Bulgaria, Poland and Slovakia are the only Nato countries left flying the Russian-made aircraft, which date back to the late 1970s.
However, talks to transfer them to Ukraine have so far proved unsuccessful, partially because Western governments believe it would be a provocation too far for Vladimir Putin.
‘We have not transported whole aircraft’
A US defence official on Tuesday suggested that Ukraine was set to receive fighter jets and spare parts to repair its own ailing fleet as part of an arms shipment.
John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman said Ukraine’s military “right now have available to them more fixed-wing fighter aircraft than they did two weeks ago”.
Without going into detail, the US official added: “I would just say, without getting into what other nations are providing, that they have received additional platforms and parts. They have received additional aircraft and parts to help them get more aircraft in the air.”
Mr Kirby said the US had “helped with the trans-shipment of some additional spare parts that have helped with their aircraft needs, but we have not transported whole aircraft”.
As part of Washington’s $800 million military aid package, it has promised to send 11 Soviet-designed Mi-17 helicopters to Ukraine.
In a statement published on Twitter, Ukraine’s Air Force said: “Ukraine did not receive new aircraft from partners.”
It added that Kyiv had “received spare parts and components for the restoration and repair of the fleet of aircraft in the armed forces, which will allow it to put into service more equipment”.
Slovakia and Poland willing to send jets
Slovakia and Poland have both shown willingness to donate their fleets of MiG-29s to Ukraine, but only if they are replaced by newer American F-16 models.
The former Soviet states were simply seeking to dispense with the old fighter jets in favour of Nato-standard aircraft, according to analysts.
Eduard Heger, the Slovakian prime minister, said last week he was in talks with allies over a deal that could allow it to send MiG jets to Ukraine.
A proposal by Warsaw in March to transfer its fighters to Ukraine was rejected by Washington amid fears it would be seen as a direct engagement by Nato.
Bulgaria also has the nuclear-capable aircrafts, but has said it needs them for its own protection.
But this could change after four Dutch F-35 fighter jets were dispatched to the country to help it police its skies.
Such a move has been made more likely as Western officials no longer believe Russia, owing to its military’s poor performance in Ukraine.