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The West’s stated intention to provide Ukraine with F-16s bombers is a “deliberate provocation” of Russia and escalates the danger of nuclear war, retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) and a former analyst for the US Department of Defense, told Sputnik.

Sputnik reminded its readers that “the Russian Foreign Ministry has once again warned that Russia will treat F-16 fighter jets in Ukraine as nuclear-capable weapon systems, regardless of their model, and will consider their deployment a deliberate provocation. Kwiatkowski asks if the deployment by NATO is meant to be deliberately confusing to see how far Russia can be pushed.”

“The primary and most likely nuclear weapon that the F-16 can carry is the B61[-12] gravity bomb—which has been continually maintained and improved for both accuracy and reduced yield, so smaller than its predecessors but able to be guided… The weapon can be carried by B-2A, F-15E, F-16C/D, F-16 MLU, F-35 and the Anglo-German-Italian Panavia Tornado. The prototype B-21 stealth bomber is also designed to carry the bomb.”

Significantly, Kwiatkowski noted that “If the F-16s are to be flown by Ukrainian pilots and manned by Ukrainian ground crews, they would not be allowed access to nuclear weapons by any NATO country,” Kwiatkowski argued. This raises the specter that nuclear-armed F-16s could be flown by foreign pilots, perhaps “contractors” hired by the U.S. or other NATO countries.

Kwiatkowski added: “F-16s delivered to Ukraine introduce risk, and also make little sense from a defensive perspective… The messaging around the F-16 is such that it has become a red line for Russia, and as such, sending these platforms to Ukraine moves the battlefront to the western side of Ukraine, increases the damage to Ukraine prior to an inevitable peace, and further creates unwarranted fear in Europe.”

She then links this to the U.S. elections: “To save their influence and their own hides as we approach an election that looks to overturn the Biden administration, confusion around F-16s and nukes could very well be used to cover the actual use of a nuclear weapon somewhere in or near Ukraine and its former territories,” she concluded.