Russia says giving F-16 jets to Ukraine would carry 'colossal risks' for the West

Deputy Foreign Minister Grushko claims Moscow's military plans will 'take account' of US-built warplanes

A Belgian F-16 jet fighter over Kleine-Brogel Air Base, about 130km north-east of Brussels. AFP
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The US and its allies would be taking “colossal risks” if they supplied F-16 jets to Ukraine, Russia said on Saturday after Washington said it would begin training Ukrainian pilots on the aircraft.

“We see that western countries are still adhering to the escalation scenario. It involves colossal risks for themselves,” said state-run TASS news, quoting former permanent representative to Nato and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko.

“In any case, this will be taken into account in all our plans, and we have all the necessary means to achieve the goals we have set,” he said.

Mr Grushko was responding to a question about the implications of providing the jets, which Ukraine has been requesting from Nato countries.

It has not yet won commitments to deliver the planes, but US President Joe Biden told G7 leaders on Friday that Washington supports joint allied training programmes for Ukrainian pilots on F-16s, senior US officials said.

It capped off a long push by Ukraine to find US-built jets to replace its Soviet era stock destroyed or damaged since February last year.

Training on the US-made jets will take place in Europe and will require months to complete, one of the officials said. US officials have estimated the most expeditious time needed for training and delivery of F-16s at 18 months.

Ukraine, which does not possess any western-designed jets, said the F-16s were far more effective than the Soviet-era fighters it uses. Poland and Slovakia have donated 27 MiG-29s to Ukraine.

Western governments have been wary of giving away too much equipment to Ukraine. They have also avoided sending anything that could strike deep into Russian territory and give Moscow a reason to stage a retaliatory attack.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy received pledges this week from Britain and the Netherlands to help build a “jets coalition”, although leaders from both countries stopped short of saying they will send planes.

“This will greatly enhance our army in the sky. I count on discussing the practical implementation of this decision at the #G7 summit in Hiroshima,” Mr Zelenskyy said on Twitter on Friday.

Updated: May 20, 2023, 10:41 AM