In an interview with Radio Liberty, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stressed that each ally retains the autonomy to provide F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, affirming Ukraine's right to self-defense, including striking legitimate Russian military targets beyond its borders.

Ukraine has actively pursued U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets to counter Russian air superiority. The United States approved the transfer of F-16s from Denmark and the Netherlands to Ukraine in August, pending completion of pilot training.

Kyiv had long sought to obtain the fighters after heavy losses incurred by its air force, which flies primarily Russian aircraft. The US F-16 has better combat capabilities than those operated by Ukraine.

On the question of when Ukraine will be able to deploy F-16s, Stoltenberg stated that it was not possible to determine.

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He reassured that Ukraine’s allies all wish for their early deployment, emphasizing that the effectiveness of the F-16s will significantly depend on the training of pilots and the preparedness of maintenance crews and support personnel.

“I think we have to listen to the military experts exactly when we will be ready to or when allies will be ready to start sending and delivering the F-16s,” the NATO chief said.

“The sooner, the better,” he added.

Stoltenberg revealed that the decision to deliver F-16s to Ukraine would be left to each ally, with differing policies.

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"The war in Ukraine is a war of aggression, and Ukraine has the right to self-defense, including striking legitimate Russian military targets outside Ukraine," as cited by Stoltenberg in the Radio Liberty media outlet.

He also highlighted the significance of Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's death and the recent gains made by Russian forces on the battlefield, emphasizing the urgent need for NATO and its allies to rally behind Ukraine.

"I strongly believe that the best way to honor the memory of Aleksei Navalny is to ensure that President Putin doesn't win on the battlefield but that Ukraine prevails," Stoltenberg stated.

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He pointed to the recent withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Avdiivka, following months of intense fighting, as a clear indicator of the necessity for increased military support to prevent further Russian advancements.

While discussing the $61 billion U.S. military aid package for Ukraine, the NATO chief noted that its progress has been stalled in the House of Representatives. However, he highlighted the proactive support from other nations such as Sweden, Canada, and Japan.

"We are focused on the United States, but we also see how other allies are really stepping up and delivering significant support to Ukraine," Stoltenberg told Radio Liberty.

Denmark's transfer of 19 American-made F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine will take place in the second quarter of 2024, once Ukrainian pilots have completed training, the Danish defense ministry said at the beginning of January.

The Netherlands also announced F-16 transfers to Ukraine last August and is currently training Ukrainian pilots, but it has yet to say when the 42 planes will arrive.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky assured in his New Year's address that Ukrainian pilots were ready to fly the F-16s, which should be put into service this year.

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