The United States has given its approval for the Netherlands to deliver F-16s to Ukraine, the Dutch defence minister said on Friday, in a major gain for Kyiv even though the fighter jets will not have an immediate impact on the almost 18-month war.
“I welcome the US decision to clear the way for delivery of F-16 jets to Ukraine. It allows us to follow through on the training of Ukrainian pilots,” Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said in a message on the social platform X, formerly known as Twitter. “We remain in close contact with European partners to decide on the next steps.”
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Ukraine has long pleaded for the sophisticated fighter to give it a combat edge. It recently launched a long-anticipated counteroffensive against the Kremlin’s forces without air cover, placing its troops at the mercy of Russian aviation and artillery.
Apart from delivering the warplanes, Ukraine’s allies also need to train its pilots. Washington says the F-16s, like the advanced US Abrams tanks, will be crucial in the long term as Kyiv faces down Russia.
The Netherlands is part of a Western coalition that also includes Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom that in July pledged to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s.
Washington must give its blessing because the planes are made in the United States.
Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said in a message on X that US clearance to send F-16s to Ukraine “marks a major milestone” in Ukraine’s defence.
It was not immediately clear when the first F-16s could be delivered to Ukraine.
As well as the Netherlands, Denmark said in June that training Ukrainian pilots had started and the country was considering delivering jets to Kyiv, but that pilots would need six to eight months of training before a possible donation of aircraft can become a reality.
In a statement to Danish media, Defence Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen said that the government has several times said that a donation was “a natural step after the training”.
Meanwhile, Russian air defences stopped drone attacks on central Moscow and on the country’s ships in the Black Sea, officials said Friday, blaming the attempted strikes on Ukraine.
Defence systems shot down a Ukrainian drone over central Moscow early Friday and some fragments fell on an exhibition centre, the Russian Ministry of Defence said in a statement.
It said the drone was shot down at about 4 am (01:00 GMT) and there were no injuries or fire caused by the fragments.
However, flights were briefly suspended at all four major Moscow airports.
Journalist Yulia Shapovalova, in Moscow, told Al Jazeera: “This is the third attack … in the course of just 24 hours, we’ve heard a drone was shot down by an air defence system near the village of Nikolskoye, in the border Belgorod region.
“Earlier, according to …, the Russian Ministry of Defence, the Ukrainian armed forces tried to attack ships on the Russian Black Sea Fleet, with an unmanned boat.”
The area is about 4km (2.5 miles) west of the Kremlin. The defence ministry called the latest incident “another terrorist attack by the Kyiv regime”.
Naval forces also destroyed a Ukrainian sea drone that attempted an attack on Russian ships late on Thursday in the Black Sea, about 240km (149 miles) southwest of Sevastopol, the ministry said.
The drone was taken out by fire from a patrol boat and a corvette, it said.
It was not possible to verify the claims.