Home Society Belgium to deliver first F-16s to Ukraine this year — with strings attached
Belgium to deliver first F-16s to Ukraine this year — with strings attached

Belgium to deliver first F-16s to Ukraine this year — with strings attached

by host
Belgium to deliver first F-16s to Ukraine this year — with strings attached

BRUSSELS — Belgium’s pledge on Tuesday to send the first batch of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine this year comes with a clear warning to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy: Don’t fly them in Russian territory.

Ukraine and Belgium have signed a security agreement which includes the delivery of 30 U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, in a move to bolster Kyiv’s defense capabilities against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing invasion.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo agreed on a plan that “includes at least €977 million in Belgian military aid to Ukraine this year,” the Ukranian  president announced Tuesday, during a visit to Belgium.

De Croo had already announced last year that Belgium would send F-16s to Ukraine in 2025 — without saying how many. Crucially, he also said at the time that the main condition would be whether the next government also agrees to do so, as Belgium is headed toward an election in June.

“These F-16 jets will be provided to Ukraine as soon as possible. Our aim is to be able to provide first aircraft before the end of this year, 2024,” De Croo said at a press conference with Zelenskyy. “We will do everything in our capacity to deliver some planes already this year.”

Asked if the F-16s can be used in Russia, De Croo said:  “On … utilization of weapons, everything which is covered by this agreement is very clear, it is for utilization by the Ukraine Defense Forces on Ukraine[’s] territory.”

F-16 jets have been a top political priority for Zelenskyy, as the modern combat aircraft is seen as a key to further air defense against Russia. 

A group of countries led by the Netherlands and Denmark — and later the U.S. — vowed in July last year to start training Ukrainian pilots to use F-16s.

Zelenskyy thanked De Croo for the timely military support, highlighting again the need to use modern weaponry as Putin’s troops press on.

“Now, Russia is trying to bring even more destructions to Ukraine and kill even more people,” Zelenskyy said. “Putin has only one influence mechanism, that is the destruction of lives. He’s not capable of doing anything else.”

Zelenskyy added that Putin has been “doing everything” to disrupt the peace summit planned for Switzerland in June and prolong the war.

“The peace summit needs President Biden,” Zelenskyy said, referring to the U.S. President Joe Biden who has not yet pledged to attend. His absence would benefit Putin, Zelenskyy added.

On Tuesday, Belgium also pledged to provide Ukraine with support over the course of the agreement’s 10-year term. The agreement encompasses a wide range of support, including modern armored vehicles, air force equipment, naval security, mine clearance and military training.

Belgium has committed to supplying the 30 F-16 fighter jets before 2028.

Zelenskyy’s visit to Belgium was initially scheduled earlier but had to be postponed due to Russian forces advancing in Ukraine.

De Croo’s deal with Ukraine comes shortly before the Belgian federal election on June 9, after which the caretaker government cannot make major decisions on foreign policy. The far-right Vlaams Belang is expected to become the biggest party.

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