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As Zelenskyy visits for D-Day, Macron promises Ukraine Mirage aircraft to fend off Russian attacks


KHARKIV, Ukraine (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron announced Thursday that France will provide Ukraine with its Mirage combat aircraft to help the country’s defense against Russia’s aggression. He spoke after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy joined world leaders in France to commemorate the D-Day invasion.

Zelenskyy was also in France to seek more Western help even as his forces battle to stave off a Russian onslaught near the eastern city of Kharkiv in a war that has become Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II.

Macron told the French public broadcaster he will announce Friday a new cooperation with Ukraine and the sale of French-made combat aircraft, the Mirage 2005, which will “allow Ukraine to protect its soil, its airspace” against Russian attacks.

France will also start training Ukrainian pilots, Macron said as he reiterated that Ukraine should be allowed to use weapons provided by its Western allies to target Russian military targets and “neutralize the points from which (the country) is being attacked.”

The Netherlands and Denmark promised last year to give F-16 warplanes to Ukraine and the United States is training Ukrainian pilots at a base in Arizona. Macron did not specify when the French combat aircraft would arrive.

Zelenskyy and his wife, Olena, attended the 80th anniversary events in Normandy with President Joe Biden and European leaders who have supported Kyiv’s efforts in the war, now in its third year. Zelenskyy will meet with French officials in Paris on Friday.

Although the promise of French aircraft will be welcome in Kyiv, Ukraine is currently fighting to hold back a recent Russian push in eastern areas, including the border regions of Kharkiv and Donetsk, that seeks to exploit Kyiv’s shortages of ammunition and troops along the roughly 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front line.

Ukraine has framed the conflict as a clash between Western democratic freedom and Russian tyranny. Russia says it is defending itself against a menacing eastward expansion of the NATO military alliance.

Overnight, Ukrainian drones struck an oil refinery and a fuel depot in Russian border regions, officials in the targeted areas said Thursday, in Kyiv’s ongoing effort to disrupt the Kremlin’s war machine.

As part of that effort, NATO allies said they would allow Ukraine to use weapons they deliver to Kyiv to carry out limited attacks inside Russia.

The decision could potentially impede Moscow’s ability to open a new front in the northeastern regions. Ukrainian officials feared a fresh assault was imminent after the May 10 offensive against Kharkiv, in which Moscow’s troops exploited weaknesses and successfully diverted Ukrainian forces.

Ukraine has Washington’s permission to use U.S.-supplied weapons to shoot at targets inside Russia, with limitations.

Ukrainian lawmaker Yehor Cherniev told The Associated Press that they can be used only in Russian border regions east of Ukraine where the Kremlin’s forces assemble and launch attacks, but they cannot hit airfields or aircraft that fire missiles at Ukraine, including at civilian areas.

He said Ukraine has “stopped” the momentum of the northeast offensive in the Kharkiv region.

Although Russian forces might still try to advance, “now we can destroy their troops on the territory of Russia near the border of Kharkiv,” added Cherniev, deputy chairman of parliament’s National Security, Defense and Intelligence Committee.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby noted there has never been a restriction on Ukrainian forces shooting down hostile aircraft, “even if those aircraft are not necessarily in Ukrainian airspace. … They can shoot down Russian airplanes that pose an impending threat. And they have. They have since the beginning of the war.”

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Russia could provide long-range weapons to other countries so that they could strike Western targets. Biden countered by noting the limits that Washington imposed.

“We’re not talking about giving (Ukraine) weapons to strike Moscow, to strike the Kremlin,” Biden told ABC News.

Ukraine has received authorization to use the weapons “just across the border where they’re receiving significant fire from conventional weapons used by the Russians to go into Ukraine to kill Ukrainians,” Biden said.

Biden said he was “concerned” by Putin’s behavior and called him “a dictator.” He also pledged that “we will not walk away” from the defense of Ukraine and allow Russia to threaten more of Europe.

Moscow officials were unconvinced by Western arguments. Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said Putin’s comments amounted to “a quite significant shift in our foreign policy.”

“Let the U.S. and its allies feel the impact of direct use of Russian weapons by others,” Medvedev wrote on his messaging app channel.

Putin deliberately didn’t identify who would receive Russian weapons, Medvedev said, adding that they could go to anyone who considers the U.S. and its allies their enemies.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday the use of Western weapons against Russia “can’t be left without consequences, and those consequences will certainly follow.”

Putin claimed that using some Western-supplied weapons involves military personnel of those countries controlling the missiles and selecting targets, and therefore he said that Moscow could take “asymmetrical” steps elsewhere in the world.

The U.S. military said that it doesn’t control the missiles it provides to Ukraine or the targets, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized the alliance has no plans to deploy forces to Ukraine.

“We are focusing on how we can establish a stronger framework for our support, with an institutionalized framework for the support to Ukraine and how to establish an agreed long-term financial commitment to ensure that we stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes,” Stoltenberg said in Finland.

An overnight drone attack hit the Novoshakhtinsk refinery in Russia’s Rostov region and started a fire, Rostov Gov. Vasily Golubev said. Firefighters had to pull out briefly because of a second attack, he said.

The extent of the damage to the facility wasn’t immediately clear. Golubev said that there were no casualties.

In Belgorod, another border region, a drone hit an oil depot overnight, Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said. It caused an explosion and a fire in one of the oil reservoirs. The blaze was quickly extinguished and there were no casualties, Gladkov said.

It wasn’t immediately possible to verify the reports.

Refineries, fuel depots and oil terminals have been targets of increasingly sophisticated Ukrainian drone attacks that have reached deep into Russia. The attacks deny Moscow revenue, and Western sanctions have added to the pressure on Russia’s energy sector.

Russia, meanwhile, has been attacking Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and causing widespread power outages. The apparent goal is to sap public morale and affect military manufacturing plants.

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Corbet reported from Omaha Beach, France, and Surk reported from Nice, France.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Samya Kullab, Sylvie Corbet And Barbara Surk, The Associated Press



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