The Netherlands confirmed that it will provide Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets following approval from the U.S. allowing Ukrainian pilots to get training to fly the planes and eventually to provide the aircraft themselves.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy received the assurance on the jets, which he called a “breakthrough agreement,” from Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on a visit to Eindhoven on Sunday. Rutte confirmed that Denmark also will deliver F-16 aircraft to Kyiv, after the Biden administration last week gave final approval for the delivery of Dutch and Danish F-16s to Ukraine as soon as pilot training is complete.
The Dutch government did not immediately say when the first F-16s might enter the conflict or how many the Netherlands will send. Zelenskyy told reporters that the exact number of aircraft will be discussed “a little later,” Reuters reported.
“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 cooperation with the United States and other partners once the conditions for such a transfer have been met,” Rutte said at a joint press conference with Zelenskyy at a military air base in Eindhoven, according to Reuters.
Rutte said the Netherlands has 42 F-16s, but it is too early to say how many will be donated. The Danish Foreign Ministry confirmed its commitment to delivering F-16s in a statement on Sunday, also without specifying the number of aircraft or the timing.
Zelenskyy later Sunday traveled to Denmark, where Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said she hoped the first Danish F-16s could be provided to Ukraine around year end.
To meet the conditions for the F-16 transfers, Ukrainian pilots will first have to undertake at least six months of training on the aircraft, as part of the terms set by the U.S.
The U.S. decision marks a sharp turnaround by the Biden administration, which for the last year had refused to approve any transfer of the aircraft or conduct training for fear that it could escalate tensions with Russia. The change indicates a new sense of urgency from Washington to get fighter jets to the battlefield as soon as possible, amid growing concerns about the prospects for Kyiv’s slow-going counteroffensive.
Zelenskyy has spent months pressing the West to provide his forces with modern jets to repel Moscow’s all-out invasion. And Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Saturday stressed the need for Kyiv’s allies to continue supplying Ukrainian forces with the assistance needed to make its military push succeed.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned last month that Moscow will consider the supply of F-16s to Ukraine as “a threat from the West in the nuclear sphere” because of the jets’ ability to carry nuclear weapons. On Friday, he renewed the warning that in providing arms to Ukraine, the NATO allies risk entering “a situation of direct armed confrontation of nuclear powers.”