EINDHOVEN, Netherlands (AP) — The Netherlands and Denmark announced Sunday they will give F-16 warplanes to Ukraine, in a long-awaited announcement that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called an important motivation for his country’s forces that are embroiled in a difficult counteroffensive against Russia.
The timeline depends on how soon Ukrainian crews and infrastructure are ready for the powerful U.S.-made jets, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told Zelenskyy as the two visited a Dutch air base.
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.
Zelenskyy welcomed the ‘’historic” announcement and praised Rutte for making the Netherlands the first country to offer the planes. The announcement came minutes after the two leaders inspected two gray F-16 jets parked in a hangar at the Dutch base in the southern city of Eindhoven.
“It makes me proud that Denmark, together with the Netherlands, will donate F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine’s fight for freedom against Russia and its senseless aggression. Denmark’s support for Ukraine is unwavering, and with the donation of F-16 aircraft, Denmark is now leading the way,” Danish Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen said in a statement.
Zelenskyy said Ukraine on his Telegram channel that Ukraine would get 42 jets, but the Netherlands and Denmark, in a joint statement announcing the deliveries, did not specify numbers.
Rutte said said the Netherlands has 42 of the jets, but said some will be needed for training purposes.
When they will take to the skies over Zelenskyy’s nation also remained unclear, but Rutte said he hopes it will be soon.
“The F-16s will not help immediately now with the war effort. It is anyway a long-term commitment from the Netherlands,” the Dutch leader said. “We want them to be active and operational as soon as possible. … Not for the next month, that’s impossible, but hopefully soon afterward.”
Zelenskyy called the announcement a powerful message to his forces.
‘’F16 will certainly give new energy, confidence, and motivation to fighters and civilians. I’m sure it will deliver new results for Ukraine and the entire Europe,” he said.
The Dutch and Danish governments are also involved in a coalition that is working to train Ukrainian pilots to fly the advanced fighter jets.
Zelenskyy declined to say how many Ukrainian pilots would undergo training in Denmark and later in Romania, citing security reasons. However, Denmark said Friday that the training is starting this month.
Officials have previously said that Ukrainian pilots will need six to eight months of training.
On Friday, the Netherlands and Denmark said the U.S. had authorized them to deliver American-made F-16s to Ukraine. Washington’s approval was seen as a major boost for Kyiv, even though the fighter jets won’t have an impact any time soon on the almost 18-month war.
Washington says the F-16s — like the advanced U.S. Abrams tanks — will be crucial in the long term as Kyiv faces down Russia.
Ukraine has been relying on older aircraft, such as Russian-made MiG29 and Sukhoi jets. F-16s have newer technology and targeting capabilities. They are also more versatile, experts say.
In a video message earlier Sunday, Zelenskyy vowed a stern retaliation for a Russian missile strike the previous day in the center of the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv that killed seven people and wounded over 100 others.
Associated Press writer Karl Ritter in Stockholm contributed.
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