Greece offers Ukraine F-16 training and support to rebuild Odesa

Greece has been a strong supporter of Ukraine, providing humanitarian aid and weapons

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis sign an agreement at Maximos Mansion in Athens, on August 21. AP
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Greece has offered to help train Ukrainian F-16 jet pilots and assist with the reconstruction of Odesa, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Monday.

"Today we have an important result for the air coalition: Greece will take part in training our pilots on F-16s. Thank you for this offer," Mr Zelenskyy told media alongside Mr Mitsotakis, on an official visit to Athens.

The US said on Friday it would let Denmark and the Netherlands hand F-16 fighter jets over to Ukraine when its pilots are trained to use them, a move welcomed by Mr Zelenskyy.

Training by an 11-nation coalition is to begin this month, and officials hope pilots will be ready by early 2024.

Greece has been a strong supporter of Ukraine since Russia's invasion, providing humanitarian aid and weapons including infantry fighting vehicles, Kalashnikov assault rifles, missile launchers and ammunition.

Mr Mitsotakis on Monday said Greece would "be present in the titanic effort to reconstruct and rebuild" Ukraine, with "particular emphasis on Odesa".

The Ukrainian port city in the early 19th century was the birthplace of a secret Greek revolutionary organisation that helped to start the 1821 revolution against Ottoman rule in Greece.

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Mr Zelenskyy is concluding a European tour, with earlier stops in Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark.

His visit to Athens coincided with an informal dinner hosted by Mr Mitsotakis with Balkan leaders, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel.

The Greek PM's office said the gathering marks the 20th anniversary of the 2003 Thessaloniki summit confirming the European perspective of Western Balkan states.

Mr Zelenskyy had earlier posted on Telegram that he would hold a joint meeting and separate talks on bilateral issues with the Balkan leaders, and also meet Ms von der Leyen.

The other participants are the presidents of Serbia, Moldova, Montenegro and Romania, the prime ministers of Kosovo, North Macedonia, Bulgaria and Croatia, and the chairwoman of the council of ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr Mitsotakis's office said.

A historically Russian ally bound by centuries of tradition and a shared Orthodox Christian faith, Greece under Mr Mitsotakis has shifted and unequivocally condemned Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Last year it expelled a dozen members of Russia's diplomatic and consular missions, and is hosting thousands of Ukrainians and their families.

In April, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov visited the Greek capital for talks with his then counterpart Nikos Panagiotopoulos.

Mr Reznikov at the time said Ukraine after the war would seek Greek assistance in de-mining the Sea of Azov, and developing the country's naval forces.

Greece has also offered to rebuild the maternity hospital in Mariupol that was shelled last year.

In April 2022, Mr Zelenskyy gave a televised speech at a special session of Greek Parliament to request assistance for Mariupol and Odesa, two Ukrainian cities that have had large ethnic Greek populations for centuries.

The session saw a rare attendance by Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, and Mr Zelenskyy was given a standing ovation by Greek ministers and MPs.

The Greek communists and a small nationalist party boycotted the event.

Updated: August 21, 2023, 9:18 PM