Mirage 2000 for Ukraine; Macron Doubling Down

June 7, 2024

Well, it has certainly been a hectic few months in the ongoing Russian invasion in Ukraine. The about turn on US military aid by the Senate saw a massive $95 billion assistance package approved in April, followed by the Russians attempting to open a second front with an attack across the northern border aimed at Kharkiv.

This in turn was followed by the Western nations supplying Ukraine with advanced long-range precision weapons lifting their restrictions on their usage against targets in Russia, a move that has basically alleviated much of the pressure that the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) were under.

But now there is another piece of news that will no doubt send Putin’s blood pressure further rocketing and further improves and secures Ukraine’s military capability. On Thursday the 6 June, President Macron of France announced that he intends to authorize the transfer of Mirage 2000 jets to Ukraine, with pilot training to start this summer.

Macron stated in his speech that this would mean “by the end of this year there will be pilots” for the Mirages and so the assumption is that the Ukrainian Air Force will be flying French supplied fighters by then or the beginning of next year.

So, what exactly are the French supplying?

The Mirage 2000 is an older fourth generation fighter and attack aircraft that is in the process of being replaced in most users service but is still an extremely capable platform. The variant currently in use by the French, and therefore assumably the one that will be supplied, is the Mirage 2000 5F, which has seen considerable upgrading and can use the latest French air-to-air and air-to-ground weaponry.

Though an older aircraft, the Mirages are certainly equivalent to the F-16’s that are in the process of being transferred to Ukraine by various European countries and will no doubt be a welcome addition to the Ukrainians, who’s old MiGs and Sukhoi’s have done remarkably well but must be increasingly difficult to keep airborne due to age and spare parts problems.

Now, the French haven’t said how many Mirage’s they intend to send, and supposedly only between twenty and thirty of the aircraft were modified to the -5F standard. But there are other international users of the  type currently retiring them, plus I suspect that France still has older Mirage 2000’s in storage that could be supplied as well.

In addition to the Mirages Macron also stated that the French will train and equip an entire new brigade of 4,500 troops for the Ukrainian army.

The announcement of this fresh support is a further hardening of the French position on being one of the foremost supporters of Ukraine, a remarkable change in policy considering that France was for the first year of the Russian invasion far more cautious and counselled its allies to be circumspect in their own weapon supply policies. But the announcement that France might send military trainers into Ukraine itself last week, now followed by the Mirage announcement, shows that the days of contemplation seem to be fully in the past for France.

In regard to French military personnel deploying to Ukraine, it will be interesting to see if that entails things like aircraft servicing and maintenance personnel, which will considerably shorten the length of time it would take for the Ukrainians to actually get the Mirage into service.

All this raise the question of what changed for France?

Well,  while I am sure that burgeoning European concerns about what a victorious Putin might do next are likely the primary motivation, along with a desire to be seen as the leader in the EU as neighboring Germany continues to flip flop on its levels of support to Ukraine, I do also suspect that a fair measure of Paris’ new grit is due to, to be frank, vendetta.

It tends to get overlooked in the English-speaking press but France has had a rather bad couple of years in its old colonial stomping grounds in Central and West Africa. Despite the end of the French Empire this area has been firmly within their sphere of influence for decades, but that all changed in in the last few years. France has effectively lost its foothold, being driven out of the Central African Republic, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, as well as under pressure in other nations that have long been under Paris’ sway.

And while you often hear talk of decolonization in those countries that France has retreated from, and other areas they are being pressured, it is notable that the French military has been immediately replaced by the Russian Wagner Group, who despite the death of their founder after his ill-considered coup, are still in business. Indeed, they often proceed to seize valuable resources in these countries, but that really is another topic.

The long and the short of it is, France is losing in its traditional areas of influence to Russia, and I suspect they don’t like it. Plus, there have been some situations in metropolitan France itself which also likely play a part in Macron’s decision on the Mirages.

Earlier this week five coffins draped in the French tricolor and inscribed with “French soldiers of Ukraine” were left at the Eiffel Tower in a stunt that French intelligence say was staged by the Russians.

More seriously, the French authorities arrested a man on June 5 after he accidentally blew himself up on Monday while making a bomb. The suspect, who is currently in hospital being treated for burns, is a Russian-Ukrainian from the Donbas region currently occupied by Russia and who some sources state was once in the Russian army. He was also reportedly in possession of firearms and fake passports.

Obviously, a foreign country engaging in terrorism, as is suspected, is hardly welcome news at the best of times. But there might be an even more sinister motive in what is going on.

The Paris Olympics is due to begin in July 2024 and has been the subject of a Russian disinformation campaign warning about the threat of terrorist attacks against the event. Except now it looks like said disinformation campaign may have been a prelude to actual terror attacks to be carried out in France by, as alleged, Russian agents.

As said, a fair bit of speculation, but it is interesting that Macron’s sudden announcement follows a day after the failed bomber’s arrest.

And there are some other factors that likely weigh in on the French decision; factors that don’t actually concern Russia.

While the United States is by far Ukraine’s biggest supporter in its fight against the Russian invasion, it is still a subject of concern. Despite relaxing certain restrictions on weapon use recently and permitting the sending of F-16s to Ukraine by European users, the US still has a veto on how those aircraft will be used. President Biden has stated that President Zelensky of Ukraine has given a guarantee that these aircraft won’t be flown over Russian territory. This naturally constrains the use of these aircraft to being purely defensive; critical, no doubt, but as demonstrated by the change in policy on long-range strikes, a disadvantage to the UAF.

One suspects that the French Mirages will have no such restrictions placed upon them. Indeed, the French policy of independently developing their own modern aircraft has long been a boon for those wanting modern aircraft and weapon systems independent of Washington’s interference.

This seems to have been demonstrated recently when the Swedes announced that they were going to delay their intended supplying of modern Gripen fighters to Ukraine at the request of their “partners”. Again, one suspects the French will be far less prone to outside pressure in this regard.

Plus the recent news that the US and it allies is only currently capable of training twenty Ukrainian pilots to fly the eighty-five F-16s that are scheduled for transfer also means that Macron stating explicitly that they will train pilots shows that France seems to intend to take up the slack.

And there is the final elephant in the room; the upcoming US election. Donald Trump remains an…uncertain commodity when it comes to Ukraine. Should he be elected then the future of US support for that country is an open question and so one suspects that the French may think it prudent to plan for the possibility that the United States may change its Ukraine policy entirely after the election.

Sources/Related:

Dr. Dan Lomas; Chinese Spying, Intel Success and Failure in Ukraine and Agency Branding

US Missiles Being Used by Ukrainian MiGs

Ukraine to get F-16s (and Possibly Gripen!)

UK Sending Challenger 2’s to Ukraine; What’s the Significance?

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