Greece will take part in the training of Ukrainian Air Force pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
The offer by Greece to train fighter pilots comes after Denmark and the Netherlands announced they would supply the first United States-built F-16 warplanes to the Ukrainian Air Force – a development seen as tactically key to Ukraine’s defence against Russia’s invasion.
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“Today, we have the important result for aviation coalition. Greece will participate in training of our pilots for F-16. I am grateful for this proposal,” Zelenskyy said on Monday during a joint press conference with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Athens.
The Greek Air Force consists mostly of F-16 jets and Greek pilots are considered extremely experienced in the use of the US-built warplanes.
Zelenskyy did not provide details of the pilot training programme but officials from a coalition of 11 nations had said the F-16 training for Ukraine’s pilots will take place in Denmark and Romania. Training is to begin this month and the first Ukrainian F-16 pilots are expected to complete training by early 2024.
Earlier on Monday, Zelenskyy, who is concluding a European tour with earlier stops in Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark, said the promised deliveries of F-16 jets had made him confident Ukraine could end Russia’s invasion.
Zelenskyy called the decision to donate the warplanes, “absolutely historic, powerful and inspiring for us”, during a visit to Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands on Sunday with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
The Dutch Air Force has 42 F-16s and Rutte said the number of fighter jets to be sent to Kyiv would be finalised after talks with Ukraine’s allies.
Russia has long warned that the provision of F-16 to Kyiv would be a “colossal risk” that could escalate its war in Ukraine.
According to the Washington, DC-based think tank The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Ukraine’s Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk believes that F-16s will allow Ukrainian forces to combat Russia’s main aviation threat – the SU-35 jet fighter. If Ukraine could destroy between 2 and 5 percent of Russia’s SU-35s, that would force it to “temporarily stop flying combat missions to develop a response”, the ISW reported.
“Oleshchuk argued that this temporary pause would give Ukraine temporary air superiority and therefore allow Ukrainian forces to significantly accelerate counteroffensive operations,” the ISW added.
Greece has also been a strong supporter of Ukraine since Russia’s invasion, providing humanitarian aid and weapons, including infantry fighting vehicles, assault rifles, rocket launchers and ammunition.
Prime Minister Mitsotakis on Monday said Greece would “be present in the titanic effort to reconstruct and rebuild” Ukraine, with “particular emphasis on Odesa”.
A historically Russian ally bound by centuries of tradition and a shared Orthodox Christian faith, Greece under Mitsotakis has shifted and unequivocally condemned Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Last year, Greece expelled a dozen members of Russia’s diplomatic and consular missions and is hosting thousands of Ukrainian refugees and their families.
In April, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov visited the Greek capital for talks with his then-counterpart Nikos Panagiotopoulos.
Reznikov at the time said Ukraine after the war would seek Greek assistance in de-mining the Sea of Azov and developing the country’s naval forces.