France does not exclude sending fighter jets to Ukraine, President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday, but he laid out conditions for such a significant step to be taken.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, France has sent Kyiv air-defence systems, rocket launcher units, cannon and other military equipment.
It has pledged to send armoured surveillance and combat vehicles, but has stopped short of battle tanks or heavier weaponry.
Mr Macron was asked at The Hague on Monday if France was considering sending warplanes, to which he replied “nothing is excluded” as long as certain conditions are met.
Among those conditions: are that such equipment would not lead to an increase in tension or be used “to touch Russian soil", and that it would not “weaken the capacities of the French army", Mr Macron said.
He said Ukraine would have to formally request the planes, and that he would be meeting visiting Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov in Paris on Tuesday.
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Ukrainian officials have been stepping up demands for heavier weapons from Western allies to push back Russia’s forces.
At Mr Macron’s side, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Ukraine had not formally requested Dutch F16 fighter jets so far.
Mr Rutte struck a cautious stance after Dutch Foreign Minister told politicians this month that there were “no taboos” about sending the warplanes.
“There is no talk about delivering F-16s to Ukraine. No requests,” he said on Monday. There are “no taboos, but it would be a very big next step.”
“It is very important we keep supporting Ukraine and that Ukraine articulates to us what they need."
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He also welcomed recent German and US announcements about sending tanks to Ukraine.
“As the Netherlands, we will keep looking at what we can do,” Mr Rutte said.
“We don’t have Leopard 2 tanks, we lease them. We’ve said if it helps we’re prepared to buy them and pass them on. Maybe it’s better to use those leased Leopard 2s somewhere else … Whatever works.”
Also on Monday, France and Australia announced a deal to jointly produce 155mm artillery shells for Ukraine after a ministerial meeting in Paris that showed efforts to relaunch ties between the Pacific allies.
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The artillery deal is a small but symbolic step by the two nations after a bitter row two years ago when former Australian prime minister Scott Morrison tore up a contract to buy submarines from France.
"Several thousand 155mm shells will be manufactured jointly," French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu said alongside his Australian equivalent Richard Marles, and the two countries' foreign ministers.
"There are some unique capabilities that exist in Australia and some synergies that can be achieved by Australia and France working together in relation to the supply of this ammunition," Mr Marles said.
The deal will see both countries share the cost of the deliveries of the ammunition from French maker Nexter, with Australia to provide the explosive powder, Mr Lecornu said.