NATO allies begin transfer of F-16s to Ukraine as leaders meet in US

Transfer of fighter jets aims to help Kyiv ‘effectively defend itself’ against Russia’s invasion, top US diplomat says.

F-16 Fighting Falcon
Antony Blinken said the F-16s were being transferred from Denmark and the Netherlands [File: Ints Kalnins/Reuters]

The first batch of United States-built F-16 fighter jets are being transferred to Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says, as world leaders pledge continued support for Kyiv at a NATO summit in Washington, DC.

Speaking on the sidelines of the summit on Wednesday, Blinken said the F-16s were being transferred from Denmark and the Netherlands.

“And those jets … will be flying in the skies of Ukraine this summer to make sure that Ukraine can continue to effectively defend itself against the Russian aggression,” the top US diplomat said.

Backing for Ukraine during Russia’s invasion of the country is at the top of the agenda at this week’s NATO summit in the US capital, where the leaders of the alliance’s 32 member countries have gathered.

Ukraine has long sought advanced Western aircraft, and US President Joe Biden in August gave the green light to transfer F-16s to the country despite concerns about how long it would take Ukrainian personnel to train to fly the planes.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who also is in Washington, DC, for this week’s summit, had urged his American and European allies to provide Kyiv with more financial and military support to stave off Russian attacks.

In a social media post, Zelenskyy thanked the US, Denmark and the Netherlands for helping “to strengthen the Ukrainian air force with F-16s”.

“This is a clear signal that Russia’s ability to terrorize Ukrainian people, cities, and communities will continue to reduce,” he wrote on X.

“F-16s will also be used to bolster Ukraine’s air defense. I am confident that they will assist us in better protecting Ukrainians from brutal Russian attacks, such as this week’s strike on the Okhmatdyt children’s hospital in Kyiv.”

NATO members have announced the delivery of five additional Patriot and other strategic air defence systems to help Ukraine, and more aid announcements were expected at this week’s summit.

In a joint statement on the F-16 transfer, the leaders of the US, Netherlands and Denmark said they were “committed to further enhancing Ukraine’s air capabilities, which will include squadrons of modern fourth generation F-16 multi-role aircraft”.

“The coalition intends to support their sustainment and armament, as well as further associated training for pilots to enhance operational effectiveness,” they said.

“We will continue to coordinate jointly in support of Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against Russian aggression.”

The NATO summit falls at a critical time for Biden, who is facing questions about his health and ability to serve another term as US president after he delivered a disastrous 2024 election debate performance late last month.

The Democratic Party leader, who is expected to face off against his Republican predecessor Donald Trump in November’s election, has dismissed calls to drop out of the race.

During an address on Tuesday evening to mark the start of the summit, Biden pledged long-term support for Ukraine and hailed NATO as “stronger than it’s ever been in its history”.

“Ukraine can and will stop Putin,” the US president said, “especially with our full, collective support. And they have our full support.”

On Wednesday, he said he was pleased all NATO members were pledging to expand their industrial bases and to develop plans for defence production at home.

“We cannot allow the alliance to fall behind,” Biden said. “We can and will defend every inch of NATO territory and we’ll do it together.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies