Russia is pressing hard against Ukrainian defenses “to maximize the depletion” of Ukrainian troops before the gradual arrival of Western aid – the F-16 multirole fighters in particular – that might turn the war in Ukraine’s favor, said Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief Oleksandr Syrsky.

In a Telegram announcement, Syrsky said that Russia maintained “active offensive actions of varying intensity” in the Kupyansk, Pokrovsk, Kurakhivska and Vremivka sectors in the Donetsk region – a region Russia has claimed sovereignty through illegal referendums – in an attempt to seize territories and further degrade Ukrainian defense. 

Syrsky said fighting on the Pokrovsk front has been particularly intense, where AFP reported that Moscow’s forces in the area are closing in on a key transit artery and supply routes linking civilian hubs north of the industrial territory to towns further south.

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Syrsky said Russia’s goal is to erode Ukrainian defenses before the arrival of Western aid.

“The enemy is well aware that as a result of the gradual receipt of a significant amount of weapons and military equipment from our partners, and the arrival of the first F-16s, which will strengthen our air defense, time will play in our favor and [the Kremlin’s] chances of success will decrease,” said Syrsky.

“Therefore, the [Russian force command staff] is currently making every effort to increase the intensity and expand the geography of hostilities to maximize the depletion of our troops, disrupt the training of reserves and prevent the transition to active offensive actions,” he said.

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Although Kremlin strike planners probably didn’t intend to hit a NATO member, Romania’s military launched F-16s fighters and said it would investigate.

A May 2023 report written by a former F-16 pilot and instructor employed by Kyiv Post outlined the advantages of the Western fighter aircraft over Ukraine’s aging Soviet-era air fleet.

Syrsky also noted active hostilities across the front from the Kharkiv region to the “coastal part of the left bank of the Dnipro River” in the Kherson region.

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President Volodymyr Zelensky said this weekend at the peace summit in Switzerland that current levels of foreign military aid were late and insufficient and called for Kyiv’s allies to speed up promised F-16 fighter deliveries and send more air defense systems.

To date, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and Belgium have committed more than 60 F-16s to Ukraine. Belgium is the only one thus far to provide a timeline for its delivery – 30 jets in total, starting by the end of 2024 with gradual deliveries through 2028. However, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo also prohibited the use of F-16s provided by Brussels  against targets inside Russia.

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