Stoltenberg: Ukraine Using F-16s on Russian Territory Won’t Be an Escalation

The NATO chief has shrugged off the risk of provoking Russia

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg claimed on Thursday that Ukraine using NATO-provided F-16 fighter jets to strike inside Russian territory would not be an escalation.

Several NATO members will send US-made F-16s to Ukraine once pilots have completed training, and at least two — the Netherlands and Denmark — have said Ukraine could use the jest to hit targets inside Russia.

The US recently gave Ukraine the green light to use US-provided missile systems in strikes inside Russia near Ukraine’s Kharkiv oblast. The use of NATO weapons inside Russia risks provoking a major response from Moscow, but Stoltenberg has been shrugging off the warnings.

When asked about Ukraine using F-16s to strike Russian territory, Stoltenberg said he welcomed the idea. “I welcome that Allies have reduced or loosened their restrictions on the use of weapons also against military targets inside Russia because we need to understand what this is. This is war or aggression,” he said before a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels.

Stoltenberg said that Ukraine has the right to self-defense under international law, and that applies to strikes inside Russian territory. “Self-defense is not escalation. Self-defense is a right enshrined in the UN Charter. And we have the right to help Ukraine uphold the right,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has escalated the war in Ukraine several times in direct response to Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory, including the offensive in Kharkiv, which he said was launched in response to Ukrainian attacks in Russia’s Belgorod oblast. The direct NATO support for strikes inside Russia risks another major escalation.

Putin and other Russian officials have also noted that F-16s could be armed with nuclear weapons and said they could be treated as a nuclear threat. A Ukrainian commander said some of the F-16s will be stored abroad to protect them from Russian strikes, but that could make the NATO bases housing them potential targets for Russia.

Author: Dave DeCamp

Dave DeCamp is the news editor of, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.