A Russian official said Saturday that the Western plans to provide Ukraine with American-made F-16 fighter jets bring “colossal risks” after the US announced it would sign off on European countries delivering the aircraft.
“We see that Western countries are still adhering to the escalation scenario. It involves colossal risks for themselves,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, according to TASS.
“In any case, this will be taken into account in all our plans, and we have all the necessary means to achieve the goals we have set,” Grushko added.
During the last day of the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, President Biden was asked about Russia calling the F-16 plan a “colossal risk.” He replied, “It is for them.”
The provision of F-16s marks a significant escalation of NATO support for Ukraine. The alliance previously ruled out providing Ukraine with Soviet-made fighter jets over fears that Moscow would perceive the move as NATO directly entering the war.
But earlier this year, Poland and Slovakia took the escalatory step of sending Soviet-made MiG-29 fighter jets, and now F-16s appear to be on the way, although there’s no clear timeline for when they will reach Kyiv.
Belgium, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands all have F-16s, but they have yet to officially confirm they will be supplying them. First, Ukrainian pilots need to be trained on the F-16s, and estimates on how long that could take vary significantly.
Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, previously told Congress the training could take 18 to 24 months. Other Pentagon officials have said an expedited version of the training could take four to nine months.
So far, the US has said it will support the training of Ukrainian pilots but has not pledged to send its own F-16s. On Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said President Biden hasn’t decided on whether or not the US will provide F-16s and that the US was focusing on other types of weapons.
“I think given the numbers [of F-16s] that are currently available from the stocks of our European allies, and the fact that based on the money Congress has given us, there are so many other priorities for systems to give, it may be that we focus more on third party transfer, but the president has not made a final decision,” Sullivan said.
The efforts to provide Ukraine with F-16s represent NATO’s long-term plans to support Ukraine in its war against Russia, as it could be years before the Ukrainian military can actually use the aircraft.