On Sunday, Denmark and the Netherlands became the first countries to pledge they will provide Ukraine with US-made F-16 fighter jets following formal US approval of the transfer.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Denmark will “hopefully” provide Ukraine with 19 jets over the next few years, with the final deliveries being made in 2025. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte noted that the Netherlands has 42 F-16s but did not specify how many will head to Ukraine.
“Today we can announce that the Netherlands and Denmark commit to the transfer of F-16 aircraft to Ukraine and the Ukrainian Air Force, including cooperation with the United States and other partners once the conditions for such a transfer have been met,” Rutte said at a press conference while hosting Zelensky in the Netherlands.
Zelensky was in Denmark on Monday and thanked the nation’s parliament for the future delivery of F-16s.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken provided the formal approval for the transfer in a letter to the Netherlands and Denmark last week. The letter said the F-16s can be sent when the first Ukrainian pilots complete their training, which isn’t expected to happen until next summer.
The first batch of Ukrainian pilots have started training, which involves four months of English classes and then six months of combat training. According to The Washington Post, the first class only consists of six Ukrainian pilots.
President Biden first gave the green light for European countries to train and arm Ukraine with F-16s in May, but the plan took months to get off the ground. Ukrainian officials have expressed frustration with the delay. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Gen. Valery Zaluzhny has said F-16s would help the counteroffensive, although US officials privately believe the jets wouldn’t make much of a difference in the current fight due to Russia’s extensive air defenses.
The provision of F-16s to Ukraine marks a significant escalation of US and NATO support for Ukraine and demonstrate’s how the Western alliance is expecting to support the war for the long term. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has noted that F-16s are capable of carrying nuclear weapons and has said Moscow will view the jets as a nuclear threat.
In the early days of the war, NATO 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 step of sending Soviet-made MiG-29 fighter jets.