Ukraine military adviser: ‘Our air defense system will not be complete without F-16s’ from US


(KYIV, Ukraine) — The war in Ukraine is entering its second year as fighting continues on the eastern frontline, where the battle for Bakhmut has intensified in recent weeks. The United Nations says more than 8,000 civilians have died, and Russia is launching new attacks by the hour.

ABC News’ Linsey Davis and Ian Pannell spoke with Yuriy Sak, adviser to Ukraine’s defense minister, on the need for U.S. fighter jets and whether the American public’s support for aid to Ukraine is waning.

LINSEY DAVIS: The destruction we’re seeing in Bakhmut is just staggering. What’s the front line in this war right now?

YURIY SAK: Good afternoon, Linsey, and thank you for inviting me. Of course, the situation on the front lines is very difficult. In some places, the fierce fighting continues. There are cities such as Bakhmut, which have been under attack now for almost eight months, actually, but the fighting during the past weeks has intensified. We are observing the buildup of Russian troops. They are increasing the intensity of their attacks. They are continuing to throw their soldiers as cannon fodder. Our minister of defense, Mr. Oleksii Reznikov, just yesterday said that near Bakhmut, on a daily basis, Ukrainian Army is killing approximately 500 Russian soldiers. So just this rate at which we are destroying the enemy, this rate in itself is a good testimony to the intensity of the fighting in the eastern front of Ukraine.

DAVIS: “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir asked President [Joe] Biden about sending American F-16s to Ukraine on Friday. I want you to listen to part of that exchange:

DAVID MUIR: But we know President Zelenskyy continues to say what he really needs are F-16s. Will you send F-16s?

BIDEN: Look, we’re sending him what our seasoned military thinks he needs now.

MUIR: You don’t think he needs F-16s now?

BIDEN: No, he doesn’t need F-16s now.

MUIR: Is that a never?

BIDEN: Look, first of all, the idea that we know exactly what’s going to be needed a year or two or three from now — but there is no basis upon which there is a rationale, according to our military now, to provide F-16s.

MUIR: But you’re not ruling it out.

BIDEN: I am ruling it out for now.

MUIR: For now.

DAVIS: Yuriy, curious to your response to that. What would you tell the president, who is clearly saying that you don’t need these planes?

SAK: Well, you know, I’m tempted to say that — there is this famous saying that — but I will paraphrase it. You don’t bite the hand that gives you HIMARS, that gives you tanks, and then hopefully will give you F-16s. Now, what I can say that we are thankful and grateful to the U.S. leadership when it comes to provision to Ukraine of the military assistance. Everything that we received so far, most often it’s been a game changer. The HIMARS system, now we’re waiting for the Patriots, the tanks. Now, when it comes to F-16s, let’s look at the last 24 hours. Ukraine was a target again of the drone attack. Now we, our Air Defense Forces, have been able to shoot down 11 out of 14 Iranian drones.

And our president, when he was making his evening address, said it very clearly. So, this is just a very good example why we need the F-16s. And we understand that these are sophisticated platforms. We understand that they require training. We understand that for each pilot, there needs to be a crew of about 25 to 30 engineers. We understand that. But for us to be able to efficiently protect our skies, to make sure that situations like the one yesterday, the attacks, are repelled now — our air defense system will not be complete without F-16s. I’m sure that everybody understands this. I will just repeat that we have seen during the last 12 months that, everything which seems impossible, and which other allies are kind of reluctant or hesitant to provide us, sooner or later, we get it. So we are just asking, let’s make it sooner rather than later.

DAVIS: I want to bring in our Chief Foreign Correspondent Ian Pannell. Ian, I know you have a few questions.

IAN PANNELL: Yeah, thanks Linsey. Yuriy, good evening. I’d like to ask you about waning U.S. support. It’s something I asked President Zelenskyy about in his press conference on Friday. As you know, the numbers are falling of Americans who support the funding or the support to Ukraine. Can you tell me as we go into the second war [sic] in Ukraine, why should Americans continue to care and continue to pay for Ukraine’s war?

SAK: Well, I would answer that making two points. Point No. 1, during the latest NATO summit in Madrid, the NATO members have stated very clearly that Russia is the most real threat to NATO allies and to the U.S. in particular. So that’s No. 2.

Point No. 2, yesterday, while here in Washington, D.C., I went to visit the Arlington Cemetery. And the American people know the price that has to be paid for freedom. I think this is the key factor why American people and the American government will continue to stand with Ukraine, because of all the nations on this planet. This country knows that freedom comes at a cost. And I believe that there are now estimates that on average, the repelling of the greatest evil that we have to face now cost the American taxpayers on average, 50 cents per day. So, this seems to be not a very high price to pay to save the world from the spread of this — and I will have to repeat this. We’ve never asked the American Army, American soldiers to fight for us. We are doing it ourselves. We just want the American people and the government to stand with us. And this will bring us closer to victory in this freedom war, because we are fighting not just for Ukraine, not just for Bakhmut, Mariupol, Kherson. We are fighting for our shared values, for our common freedom. And I think this is the deep-seated reason why our alliance must continue. And I am sure that it will.

DAVIS: Ian also reported tonight on the warning from the U.S. to China not to arm the Russians. How concerned are you about China taking a more active role in this war?

SAK: Of course, we are concerned about any country willing to support Russia in their aggression against our people, against our country, against our values. Now, because we are already having to deal with the Russia’s alliance with Iran, who is providing Russia with the lethal drones, and there are talks that Russia will be planning to get cruise missiles from Iran as well. So we hope that China, as a major player on the international arena, is not interested in supporting the country, which is a terrorist state, which is an aggressor, which has violated every article on the UN Charter. It’s logical that China probably will be better off living in a predictable world based on rules, rather than on chaos and dominance of tyrants. So we hope that China continues to have a pragmatic approach, that China will not supply any weapons. And our president said it very clearly, that we will be talking to the Chinese government, with a view to making sure that through diplomatic means, China remains at least neutral.

DAVIS: Yuriy Sak, Ian Pannell, we thank you so much for just this time and really to discuss this important conversation. Appreciate you both.

SAK: Thank you. Thank you Linsey.

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