The Russia-NATO conflict will escalate sharply when Ukraine's F-16 aircraft armed with long-range missiles start taking off from European airfields.
US President Joseph Biden, speaking before the vote in Congress on assistance to Ukraine, assured that Moscow would attack a NATO country in Europe after winning the special military operation. As a result, US troops will have to fight against the Russian troops according to the NATO Charter.
"We can't let [Russian President Vladimir] Putin win. It's in our overwhelming national interest, in the international interest of all our friends,” Biden said.
Contrary to Biden's rhetoric, it will be the Europeans, not the Americans that will do the fighting and dying. Therefore, Biden's statement contained a clear ultimatum to the EU — either help Ukraine or die.
The New York Times wrote about the 2024 strategy of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The Ukrainians will switch to defence, they will save forces, develop the defence industry and win small victories as they launch long-range missile strikes on Crimea and Russia.
"The Ukrainians want to go on the attack, either on the ground or with long-range strikes, with the hopes of seizing the world's attention,” the article says.
American and Ukrainian military strategists assume that this could force Moscow to sit down at the negotiating table no later than in early 2025.
This is a doubtful conclusion to make. However, Ukraine may indeed conduct long-distance strikes deep into Russia, especially with the use of air-to-surface missiles.
The UK, France and the US began supplying Storm Shadow and ATACMS long-range air-to-surface missiles to Ukraine in April last year. The Armed Forces of Ukraine launched those missiles from Su-24 and possible from Mig-29 and Su-27 fighters.
However, almost all of those planes have been either disabled or destroyed as a result of Russia's missile strikes on Ukrainian airfields. It appears that Ukraine will only have ten such fighters left in service by the spring of 2024 unless Western aircraft arrive.
Ukraine needs F-16 fighters like air. Kyiv is expected to receive about 60 F-16 fighters from Denmark and the Netherlands. Programmes to train Ukrainian pilots are running, but the United States postponed the transfer of F-16 fighters to Ukraine.
Individual EU countries have allocated billions in aid for Ukraine lately. Therefore, the supplies of F-16 fighters and German 500-km Taurus missiles is only a matter of time.
Russian officials said that F-16 could be based in Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
"This is our strict warning: Moscow will see the use of [F-16] fighters from the territory of these NATO member countries [Poland, Romania and Slovakia] as their participation in the conflict in Ukraine, and Russia will have to take retaliatory measures," Konstantin Gavrilov, the head of the Russian delegation at negotiations on military security and arms control in Vienna said.
Some Russian analysts suggest that all this is just rhetoric. Will Europe want to put this assertion of retaliation to the test? In general, the Russian position is fully consistent with the traditional interpretation of international law: providing one's territory for military operations means war participation.
Slovakia has already replied.
"Ukrainian F-16 fighters taking off from air bases of NATO countries will become a red line," Deputy Speaker of the Slovak Parliament Lubos Blaha said.
In his opinion, this is fraught with an open confrontation with Russia and a third world war.
By summer, the Russian army may break through Ukrainian defences, reach Odessa and liberate Transnistria. The West will only “condemn” Russia's actions and continue supporting Chisinau in words