Netherlands and Denmark pledge to deliver F-16s to Ukraine

Fighter jets not expected to be used this year

The F-16 fighter jets will help Ukraine in its attempt to gain control of aerial combat in the war with Russia. Reuters
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The Netherlands and Denmark have committed to giving F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Sunday, as he hosted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

"Today we can announce that the Netherlands and Denmark commit to the transfer of F-16 aircraft to Ukraine and the Ukrainian Air Force, including co-operation with the United States and other partners once the conditions for such a transfer have been met," Mr Rutte said in a joint press conference with Mr Zelenskyy at a military airbase in Eindhoven.

Mr Zelenskyy welcomed the decision by the Netherlands and Denmark to provide the American fighter jets.

He had sought the advanced jets for months to strengthen Ukraine's Soviet-era air force in its counter-offensive against Russian forces in the east.

Washington announced its approval of the F-16 transfers on Friday, and training of Ukraine pilots is set to begin this month, which may allow Kyiv to start using the jets in early 2024.

The decision is "absolutely historic, powerful and inspiring for us," Mr Zelenskyy said alongside Mr Rutte.

The Dutch Air Force has 42 F-16s, and Mr Rutte said the number provided to Kyiv would be finalised after talks with allies.

Later on Sunday, Mr Zelenskyy travelled to Denmark's Skrydstrup air force base and was greeted by Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

"We also know that you need more, and that is why today we announced that we will donate 19 F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine," Ms Frederiksen said.

Six of the jets will be delivered by the end of this year, eight next year and five in 2025, she said.

"This is a very powerful support for us. Training missions are already starting," Mr Zelenskyy told journalists.

"We are doing our best to get even more results for Ukraine. In particular, today we discussed the expansion of training missions."

Thanking Ms Frederiksen he declared: "Ukraine's sky shield is getting stronger."

The announcement comes three months after the Netherlands and other countries, including the UK, said they would build an international coalition to provide fighter jet support for Ukraine.

"Conditions include, but are not limited to, successfully selected, tested and trained Ukrainian F-16 personnel as well as necessary authorisations, infrastructure and logistics," said the Dutch and Danish governments in a joint statement.

Mr Zelenskyy, who called the deal a "breakthrough agreement", said the planes would strengthen Ukraine's air defences and help its current counter-offensive.

"Aircraft can speed up this process," he said, adding that the exact number of aircraft will be discussed "a little later".

"We are speaking about air defence, because we have the winter ahead of us and we understand more than anyone else in the world what winter without electricity is like."

The training of Ukrainian pilots has started, according to the government in Kyiv, but Mr Zelenskyy declined to disclose their number for security reasons.

“I cannot say how many pilots – not to surprise Russia, so that they won’t be able to prepare for this,” he 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.”

On Saturday Mr Zelenskyy was in Sweden, where he discussed the possibility of receiving Gripen jets.

Yet it remains unclear how the delivery of F-16s will help Ukraine counter Russia's air superiority.

Ukraine's Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said it would take at least six months and possibly longer to train engineers and mechanics.

Ukraine, which expects several dozens of pilots to be trained, has said it does not expect to be able to use F-16s this year.

"It's already obvious we won't be able to defend Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets during this autumn and winter," air force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said.

"We had big hopes for this plane, that it will become part of air defence, able to protect us from Russia's missiles and drones terrorism."

But US officials have privately said F-16s would have been of little help to Ukraine in its counter-offensive and would not be a game-changer when they eventually arrive.

Launched in June, Kyiv's highly anticipated counter-offensive has failed to deliver military gains similar to those achieved late last year in the Kharkiv region.

The Washington Post reported earlier this week that US intelligence believes Ukraine will not be able to fulfil its principal objective of severing Russia's land bridge to Crimea this year.

“The problem remains piercing Russia’s main defensive line and there’s no evidence these systems would’ve been a panacea,” a senior US administration official told the daily.

The West says it wants to help Ukraine defeat Russia but has repeatedly insisted it does not want to cause a direct confrontation between the US-backed Nato military alliance and Moscow.

Seven people, including a six-year old girl, were confirmed dead and at least 144 wounded after a Russian missile strike in the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv on Saturday.

Updated: August 20, 2023, 7:01 PM