The “coalition of jets” proposed by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky appears to be taking off, following commitments from the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium and France.
After a meeting yesterday on the sidelines of the Council of Europe summit in Iceland, the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, Rishi Sunak and Mark Rutte respectively, announced that they will facilitate the creation of an international coalition to strengthen Ukraine’s air defenses.
According to a statement released by the UK, Sunak and Rutte agreed to “work to build an international coalition to provide Ukraine with combat air forces and means, supporting everything from training to the purchase of F-16 fighter jets.”
In his nightly televised address, Zelensky confirmed that the UK, the Netherlands, and France had so far joined the “coalition of jets” and called it a “good start” without giving any further details.
Yuri Sak, an advisor to Ukraine’s Defense Minister, told Politico that the Ukrainian President received “assurances” from Western leaders during his latest European tour and that Zelenskyy wants F-16 combat jets at the top of the agenda at the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan this weekend and the annual NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania in July.
In terms of specifics, Ukraine wants between 40 to 50 F-16s in total, Sak said. He noted that Ukraine currently has “nothing to stop” Russian bomber aircraft, such as Tu-22s, which carry long-range guided missiles, such as the Kh-22 and Kalibr, which Russia has been deploying in massive attacks on Ukrainian cities, including eight on Kyiv in May alone.
The British/Dutch commitment to facilitate the international jet coalition comes after Zelensky’s talks in Rome, Berlin, Paris and London in the past week to secure more military support as Ukraine prepares its counteroffensive.
On May 15, the UK publicly said it will start training Ukrainian pilots in the summer and that it was already working with other countries on the possible provision of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak then promised to make the case for air support both at the Council of Europe summit and in subsequent talks with G7 leaders.
“Other countries are involved. I’m talking to those leaders,” Sunak said. “I’ll be doing more of that this week in my international engagements. We’re very keen to build that coalition of countries to give Volodymyr and his people the aircraft support they need.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said during the Zelensky visit that “training of Ukrainian pilots can start now” and invited other countries to also participate in the effort.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo confirmed to domestic media yesterday that “the country is prepared to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s.” His defense ministry, however, said that Belgium has no jets to spare for Kyiv.
“We said we can’t deliver planes, but we can train pilots,” Belgian officials said.
Since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Kyiv has tried to persuade allies to supply its military with modern fighter jets, including fourth-generation US-built F-16s as the preferred option of the Ukrainian military.
The West has thus far not agreed due to concerns about “military escalation” plus technical issues, especially the oft-cited need for training of Ukrainian pilots who primarily fly Soviet-era MiG-29s.
Although Britain, Italy, France and Germany do not have F-16s to offer, Sak told Politico that “they have an important voice in the international coalition” and Ukraine would like them to “encourage” allies such as the US and Turkey.
“If you compared it with three months ago, when we were still struggling to get tanks, today everybody is talking about the jet coalition – that’s a very promising sign,” he said. “We understand that our air defense will not be complete without fighter jets, F-16s.”
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