Denmark pledged to send 19 F-16s to Kyiv and the Netherlands also promised to provide the fighter jets during surprise visits by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a major step in giving Ukraine advanced weapons to beat back Russia’s invasion.
(Bloomberg) — Denmark pledged to send 19 F-16s to Kyiv and the Netherlands also promised to provide the fighter jets during surprise visits by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a major step in giving Ukraine advanced weapons to beat back Russia’s invasion.
After receiving a required green light from the US, the two NATO members will send the jets to Ukraine once pilots there have been trained to fly them, the Dutch and Danish prime ministers said, after separately hosting Ukraine’s leader.
Danish Premier Mette Frederiksen said her country would transfer 19 of Denmark’s 30 F-16s to Ukraine. An initial squadron of six planes may leave Denmark close to the New Year, she said, adding that over 70 Ukrainian service members are training in Denmark now.
Frederiksen joined an appeal made earlier Sunday by her Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, for other countries to help arm Kyiv with the aircraft to assist it in taking back territory occupied by Russian troops since the invasion in early 2022. The conflict will hit its 18-month mark this week.
“Together with the Netherlands, we are the first country that can make a serious, unbreakable commitment to provide fighter jets,” Frederiksen said in a news conference with Zelenskiy. “We hope and believe that the Danish fighters will help protect the Ukrainian people and help Ukraine take back the lands that are rightfully yours.”
Zelenskiy, who’s traveling with his wife Olena, met Rutte earlier at Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands. The Dutch prime minister declined to say how many of his country’s 42 F-16s would be donated but indicated it would be soon.
“I cannot give the exact number, but we still have 42 in stock here in the Netherlands,” Rutte said. When asked if Ukraine may get the jets as early as September, he said, “Not next month, that’s impossible. But hopefully soon after.”
The pledges follow months of urging from Ukrainian officials for NATO states to accelerate the transfer of more powerful weapons, including fighter jets and long-range cruise missiles. They 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, mostly without crucial air support.
The US, 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 US Secretary of State Antony Blinken giving them the go ahead for deliveries, which is required to switch ownership of the jets.
Zelenskiy 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.
Zelenskiy spoke with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson about the Nordic country’s Gripen fighter jets, 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, Zelenskiy said.
Ukrainian forces are also preparing air strips and other logistical aspects of fielding the F-16s.
“Our pilots and engineers have already started training in Denmark,” Zelenskiy said on Twitter. “We are working on the speed of preparation.”
The Netherlands and Denmark have been leading the coalition to train the Ukrainian pilots. Of the 42 Dutch F-16s, 24 are being used and couldn’t be sent to Ukraine until mid-2024.
Denmark previously said it wants to hold onto its 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.
–With assistance from Olesia Safronova and Christian Wienberg.
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