Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky yesterday welcomed a “historic” decision by the Netherlands and Denmark to supply US-made F-16 fighter jets, the latest move by Western allies to bolster his country’s efforts to fend off Russia’s invasion.
Zelensky had sought the advanced jets for months to strengthen Ukraine’s Soviet-era air force as it pursues a grinding 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, potentially allowing Ukraine to begin deploying the jets in early 2024.
The decision is “absolutely historic, powerful and inspiring for us,” Zelensky said alongside Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte during a visit to the air force base in Eindhoven in the Netherlands yesterday.
The Dutch air force has 42 F-16s, and Rutte said the number provided to Kyiv will be finalised after talks with allies.
“The Netherlands and Denmark commit to transfer F-16s to Ukraine once the conditions for such a transfer have been met,” Rutte said.
Zelensky arrived after a visit to Sweden on Saturday, when he discussed joint production of CV90 combat vehicles and training of Ukraine pilots for Gripen fighter jets with Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.
Later yesterday, he travelled to Denmark to meet Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen to discuss her country’s offer of F-16 deliveries.
“Denmark fully supports Ukraine and is ready” to do so “for as long as necessary,” Frederiksen said in a statement ahead of Zelensky’s arrival and a joint press conference later yesterday.
The long-sought approval to supply the jets drew a warning from Russia, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying that Moscow would consider the F-16s a “nuclear” threat because of their capacity to carry atomic weapons.
Russia also said it prevented Ukrainian drone attacks on Moscow and its region yesterday, the second such incident in two days.
Both sides have reported regular drone incursions during the conflict, with strikes on Russian territory becoming increasingly regular.
“At around 4:00 am (0100 GMT), an attempt by the Kyiv regime to carry out a terrorist attack by drone on infrastructure in Moscow and the Moscow region was thwarted,” the Russian defence ministry said.
The Moscow-bound drone was destroyed by “electronic warfare” and crashed into an uninhabited area after losing control, the ministry said, reporting no victims or damage.
But a Ukrainian drone raid hit a railway station in the western Russian city of Kursk, injuring five people, the regional governor said early yesterday.
In the southern region of Rostov that borders Ukraine, Russian air defence intercepted two Ukrainian drones, its governor said.
On Saturday, a Russian attack struck the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, with the regional governor saying that seven people had been killed and 148 injured.
Zelensky vowed “a tangible answer” to the attack, which came as residents attended morning church services during the Orthodox holiday of the Transfiguration of the Lord, noting that a six-year-old girl was among the victims.