Zelenskiy welcomes French promises of Mirage 2000 warplanes to help fight Russia

By Ingrid Melander and John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) -Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy said on Friday he hoped to see French-supplied warplanes in Ukrainian skies soon after President Emmanuel Macron said France planned to provide it Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets.

Zelenskiy has long expressed his frustration at how long Western allies are taking to make key decisions on military support for Ukraine in its war against Russian invasion forces.

"I'm sure that a day will come when Ukraine will see the same jets in our skies that we saw in Normandy skies yesterday," Zelenskiy told French lawmakers, referring to Thursday's commemorations for the 80th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy.

"Your combat aviation, brilliant fighter jets under Ukrainian pilots' command will prove that Europe is stronger, stronger than evil which dared to threaten it," Zelenskiy said.

Macron also made a link with D-Day, promising Europe would not weaken in its support for Ukraine. He did not specify how many Dassault-made Mirages France would provide but said Paris would send the planes and train pilots by the end of the year.

U.S. President Joe Biden said after meeting Zelenskiy in Paris on Friday that Washington would not walk away and has offered a new $225 million in weapons.

FRENCH WARPLANES AND TRAINING

The Mirage 2000-5 is a multi-role, single-engine jet fighter. France aims to replace its existing Mirage fleet by 2030 with Rafale warplanes, but it hopes also to convince other countries that have Mirages to supply them to Ukraine.

Zelenskiy addressed France's National Assembly on Friday, earning several standing ovations.

"Can Putin win the war? No, because we have no right to lose," Zelenskiy told the lawmakers. "Can this war end on the lines that exist now? No, because there are no lines for evil, not 80 years ago, not now."

In the run-up to Zelenskiy's visit, diplomats had said Paris could agree to send military trainers to Ukraine given Kyiv's urgent needs to quickly mobilise more men.

Macron said that in the immediate term, France would train, equip and finance an entire brigade of 4,500 Ukrainians, but he stopped short of making any announcement on sending advisers for now.

Such a decision would be done on the basis of a collective decision, he said.

"There should not be a taboo on this subject. At a moment when Ukraine has a challenge, we need give an answer," he said.

He said Ukraine's defence minister had through an official letter 48 hours ago told its allies it needed more help in training quickly and on its soil.

"There is a request," Macron said.

Ukraine's military leaders admit that the battlefield situation on the eastern front has deteriorated. Two years of war have sapped Ukraine's ammunition and manpower and a failed counter-offensive last year sank morale.

Though the U.S. Congress finally greenlit a long-delayed $60 billion U.S. military package in April, analysts say that a severe worldwide shortage of artillery shells means Ukraine is likely to be outgunned by Russia for the remainder of the year as Kyiv’s allies ramp up production.

(Reporting by Anastasiia Malenko in Kyiv and Ingrid Melander and John Irish in France; Editing by Angus MacSwan)