The prime ministers of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, Rishi Sunak and Mark Rutte, have agreed to build an “international coalition” to provide fighter jet support for Ukraine, a key item of military equipment Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has long sought from Western allies supporting his country’s fight against Russian forces.
“The Prime Minister and Prime Minister Rutte agreed they would work to build (an) international coalition to provide Ukraine with combat air capabilities, supporting with everything from training to procuring F16 jets,” a spokesman for Sunak’s Downing Street office said in a statement on Tuesday following a meeting at the Council of Europe Summit in Iceland.
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“The prime minister reiterated his belief that Ukraine’s rightful place is in NATO and the leaders agreed on the importance of allies providing long-term security assistance to Ukraine to guarantee they can deter against future attacks,” the spokesman said.
Most NATO members in Europe have kept open the possibility of sending their F-16s to Ukraine, even as President Joe Biden said as recently as January that the United States would not do so, Al Jazeera’s John Psaropoulos reported at the time.
According to Psaropoulos, air defence experts say US-built F-16 fighter jets would offer Ukraine an edge over the Russian air force, but only if combined with powerful missiles and targeting information, which the West would also have to provide and which would risk drawing Ukraine’s Western allies more actively into the war.
Rutte said in a tweet on Tuesday that he and Sunak had spoken about issues “we’re working on together and, of course, about our ongoing joint support for Ukraine in the face of the terrible Russian aggression”. The Dutch prime minister did not mention the provision of fighter jet support and training.
The United Kingdom remains one of the Netherlands’ key partners. In Reykjavík I spoke to Prime Minister @RishiSunak about the issues we’re working on together and, of course, about our ongoing joint support for Ukraine in the face of the terrible Russian aggression. pic.twitter.com/M8ItmkElWh
— Mark Rutte (@MinPres) May 16, 2023
Western countries have been wary about supplying advanced fighter aircraft to Ukraine, fearing their use could escalate the war. But, after visiting Sunak at his Chequers country estate outside London on Monday, Zelenskyy said that “work on the fighter jet coalition” was “moving forward actively”.
Great Britain – meeting with @RishiSunak. Spoke about defense and very important British leadership in military coalitions.
I am grateful to the 🇬🇧 for the decision to train our pilots. We are creating a coalition to train pilots on modern Western aircraft.
We continue our work… pic.twitter.com/BFznW8dNhf
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) May 15, 2023
On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron also said that his country had “opened the door” to training Ukrainian fighter pilots, even if he excluded sending any warplanes to Ukrainian forces.
“We have opened the door to training pilots … with several other European countries who are also ready. I think discussions are under way with the Americans,” Macron said in a televised interview with the TF1 broadcaster.
“The training can start from now,” he said, without providing further details.
Dutch news outlet NOS reported on Tuesday that Prime Minister Rutte had said on May 4, during Zelenskyy’s visit to the Netherlands, that the supply of F-16s was being discussed between the UK, Denmark and Belgium, while Amsterdam and London were also in discussions on the issue of fighter planes.
In a speech to the Council of Europe Summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, earlier on Tuesday, Zelenskyy again called on Western allies to help strengthen Ukraine’s air defences, particularly in light of the reportedly successful shooting down of several Russian hypersonic missiles fired at Kyiv overnight.
“Ukraine’s territory is big and to make air defence results like last night’s the rule throughout the country, we need additional air defence systems and missiles. We also need modern fighter jets, without which no air defence system will be perfect. And I am sure we will get there,” the Ukrainian leader said.
Later, in his nightly address, Zelenskyy called the reported pledge by Sunak and Rutte to provide fighter jets “a good start to the coalition” and added: “Thank you all.”