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2 NATO allies pledge to send Ukraine F-16s to fight Russia

U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 301st Fighter Wing, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, prepare to launch F-16C Fighting Falcons. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Andrew Layton).
September 01, 2023

Denmark and the Netherlands pledged to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine during surprise visits by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a major step by allies to provide advanced NATO-standard weapons to fight off Russia’s invasion.

After receiving a required green light from the U.S. to transfer the aircraft to another owner, the two NATO members will send the fighters to Ukraine once pilots there have been trained to fly them, said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

“I cannot give the exact number, but we still have 42 in stock here in the Netherlands,” Rutte said at a joint news conference with Zelenskiy at the Netherlands’ Eindhoven airbase on Sunday. When asked if Ukraine may get the jets as early as September, he said, “Not next month, that’s impossible. But hopefully soon after.”

Zelenskyy, who’s traveling with his wife, Olena, then flew to meet Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in Denmark, which appealed to other nations to participate by also donating fighter jets.

“In light of Russia’s brutal and unprovoked aggression, Denmark and the Netherlands, supported by the U.S., share the conviction that continued support to Ukraine is of utmost importance,” Denmark’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The pledges follow months of urging from Ukrainian officials for NATO states to accelerate the transfer of more powerful weapons, including fighter jets and cruise missiles. The argue that it will give them a better chance to overcome Russian forces and save the lives of Ukrainian soldiers as they push a counterattack aimed at retake occupied territory, mostly without crucial air support.

The U.S., in particular, held back for months despite pressure from Ukraine and other NATO members, with President Joe Biden’s administration saying that more pressing military needs took priority and worrying that it might escalate the West’s standoff with Russia. He dropped his reluctance in May.

Denmark and the Netherlands said Friday they’d received a letter from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken giving them the go ahead for deliveries, which is required to switch ownership of the jets.

Zelenskyy visited Sweden Saturday to kick off a new round of talks with allies on weapons systems that could strengthen the country’s defenses and boost the slow-moving counteroffensive.

His travels come at a time when reports have surfaced about US officials making downbeat assessments on the state of the counteroffensive and Ukraine’s strategy.

Zelenskyy spoke with Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson about the Nordic country’s Gripen fighter jet, and the leaders signed a statement of intent to cooperate on production on CV90 combat vehicles. Ukraine’s pilots have started training flights on the Gripens, Zelenskyy said.

In the Netherlands, he said he preferred not to disclose the numbers of pilots in training for now.

“I cannot say how many pilots — not to surprise Russia, so that they won’t be able to prepare for this,” Zelenskyy said. “There is a political decision: We know how many planes we can use, we need to prepare the infrastructure, and our military will work on it.”

Of the Netherlands’ 42 F-16 fighter jets, 24 are being used and couldn’t be sent to Ukraine until mid-2024. The Netherlands and Denmark have been leading the coalition to train the Ukrainian pilots.

Danish officials haven’t yet said when they might send the aircraft. The Nordic country has previously said it wants to hold onto its roughly 30 F-16 jets through 2024. The aircraft are being phased out as Denmark receives 27 new F-35 Joint Striker Fighters it has ordered from Lockheed Martin Corp.

Rutte, who last month announced his decision to quit politics as the longest-serving premier of the Netherlands, vowed the abrupt collapse of his government will not change The Hague’s stance on Ukraine and the caretaker cabinet will continue to support Kyiv in its military response to Russia’s invasion.


© 2023 Bloomberg L.P

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