Friday, April 12, 2024

NATO says Ukraine can deploy F-16s to attack deep inside Russia

Ukraine will be free to use F-16 fighter jets it will receive from NATO against military targets 'inside Russia', or beyond Kiev's borders, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told RFE/RL in an interview.

The NATO head has argued that Ukraine has the right to self-defense against Russian “aggression”, which would include “striking legitimate Russian military targets outside Ukraine”.

As to when the government in Kiev might actually receive the promised jets, Stoltenberg would not say. Each NATO member that has pledged to deliver F-16s has different policies and will decide themselves, he explained.

While some of Ukraine’s backers want the jets in action as soon as possible, they will have a stronger impact if the pilots are well-trained and there are enough maintenance and support crews on hand, according to Stoltenberg.

“So, 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,” he said, adding, “The sooner the better.”

Ukraine has long demanded the F-16 as a way to combat Russian air superiority. Denmark and the Netherlands have both pledged to contribute some of their jets, with President Volodymyr Zelensky putting the total number at 42. The first Ukrainian pilots training in the West finished their classes in the UK in December.

The way the US-made jet is designed means it might have difficulties operating from Ukrainian runways, sparking speculation that they could be flown from Poland, Romania or the Baltic states instead.

Russia has repeatedly warned such a deployment would be an escalation of the conflict and may even risk nuclear war, as the F-16 is capable of delivering B61 gravity bombs.

“So, if one of those planes takes off from a NATO nation – what would that be? An attack on Russia. I shall not describe what could happen next,” Dmitry Medvedev, former Russian president and deputy head of Russia’s National Security Council, stated in an interview on Thursday.

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